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HomeLifestyleTattoos without borders: the Ukrainian artist mapping migration

Tattoos without borders: the Ukrainian artist mapping migration

Artist, tattooist and curator Stanislava Pinchuk. Photograph: Beth Wilkinson

She has inked Florence Welch and her work features in Nike ads. But for Stanislava Pinchuk, body art is an intimate story of identity

Ukraine there is a tradition before embarking on a journey. Once all the bags are packed and the last-minute checks are complete, someone will suggest, “Shall we sit?” Those gathered will pause for a moment in silence, heads bowed, to acknowledge the present before entering the unknown.

“Half are found ethnographic imagery, half are diamond patterns that are significant to Brook’s own ancestral line,” Pinchuk tells Guardian Australia. “It’s a really intelligent work about what it means to document the body, and I think it’s important in the Immigration Museum that the First Nations perspective is the first thing that you see.”

Title : N.M. ( Pistachio, Rice, Barberry ) Photo print on cotton rag, 90 x 120 cm. Edition of 5, 2019. Photograph courtesy of Gavin Green.
 N.M. (Pistachio, Rice, Barberry), photo print on cotton rag, 90 x 120 cm. Edition of 5, 2019. Photograph: Gavin Green/Immigration Museum

Pinchuk’s own artwork has appeared in Nike ad campaigns, has been commissioned by Tiffany & Co and Louis Vuitton, and is permanently inked on to the bodies of singers Sam Smith and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, among others. That gives her the sort of hot profile that’s irresistible to brands, but it’s her sensitive and abstract data-mapping of war and conflict zones that made her the perfect curator for the Immigration Museum’s winter-season focus on tattoos, cultural identity and immigration stories.

The larger exhibition is completed by two related blockbuster shows from overseas, Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World; and Tatau: Marks of Polynesia. Pinchuk’s guest-curated section, Documenting the Body, highlights the works of four artists, including Andrew and herself, who are concerned with the intersection of immigration stories and art, particularly body art.

Annie, with her crane tattoo by Paul Stillen.
 Annie, with her crane tattoo by Paul Stillen. Photograph: Lekhena Porter/Immigration Museum

“It was taken at The Entrance on the central coast of NSW where I grew up and I thought she looked stunning and elegant,” Annie tells Guardian Australia. She sat down with Stillen for an hour to discuss how her family history might be interpreted, which resulted in him drawing the crane on the spot. “Mum was a little bit more accepting of that tattoo because I explained it was about her,” she laughs.

Annie instantly agreed to be the poster girl for the exhibition – her image hangs on a banner outside the museum – because she appreciates the fact that getting a piece from Stillen feels less transactional than is customary when visiting a tattooist. That’s also the case for Pinchuk, who has been tattooing friends for 10 years.

two tattooed hands
 M.D. (Rice, Chilli, Dahl) photo print on cotton rag. Edition of 5, 2019. Photograph: Gavin Green/Immigration Museum

In her solo exhibition of prints at the museum, Immigration Granulation, she mapped the migration journeys of her friends on to their bodies.

To her the process is so personal that she only works on friends, and only then as a barter system. “I give it a whole night so that no one has anything to do afterwards. Sometimes we draw for six hours, eat dinner and drink some wine, talk and play records. To me, it’s energy and intimacy, and taking someone through pain and talking about where they’re at in their lives. I never felt that I could do that with strangers.”

Zaiba Khan crafted gold jewellery for each person that they got to keep, based on the staple foods that would have been eaten on such journeys.

“It’s about nourishment and eating and the trauma of immigration,” Pinchuk says. “You might imagine this temporary journey that doesn’t have a physical impact but actually it’s deeply encoded in your body.”

The “granulation” of the title has a triple meaning here. When skin is tattooed, the healing process is called granulation. In jewellery making, the granulation process involves heating gold so that it forms tiny balls that can be dragged into patterns. In farming, crops and grains are granulated. Pinchuk enjoys the interplay between the three.

“We think of the tattoo as the permanent mark and jewellery as temporary, but actually it’s sort of the opposite,” she reflects. “The tattoo ends up going underground with us while the jewellery outlives us.”









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