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The Anthropology of Tattoos: Interview with Lars Krutak

The Anthropology of Tattoos: Interview with Lars Krutak
Tattoo Artists6 min Read

In this interview with tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak, he speaks about the diverse cultures and history of tattooing.

Well known for his literary works, and his research for films in conjunction with National Geographic, among others, Lars Krutak is a Research Associate for the Museum of International Folk Art who has spent most of his life researching the cultural and historical significance of tattooing. In this interview Lars talks more about his background, experiences, and upcoming projects. 

Lars with 102-year-old Atayal elder Iwan Kaynu Photo: © Lars Krutak 2017 #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Ta’kong, a Yonkon Naga woman of Hkampti town, Myanmar. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2014 #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Mentawai tattooing session, Butui village, Siberut Island, Indonesia. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2007 #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist

Can you describe your personal background, and how you came to be one of the top tattoo historians in the world?

Kalinga warriors Lakay Maymayao Sagangab and war leader Jaime Alos of Dananao village. PHILIPPINES. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2008 #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
70-year-old Konyak Naga elder Leye Monyu of Changlangshu village, Nagaland. India. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2018. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Two Bontok women, Mountain Province, Philippines. Photo: © Lars Krutak #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist

What drew you to native cultures, and their tattooing/body mods in particular?

Kila Pala Rupa, the last fully tattooed Hula woman of Babaka village. PAPUA NEW GUINEA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2012. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
The Kayan hand tattoos of Ado Ngo promote fertility and repel evil spirits encountered in the jungle. Borneo. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2011. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
90-year-old Nokging Wangnao is one of the last tattooed Konyak Naga warriors of Hungphoi village, Nagaland. INDIA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2018 #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist

Beyond technological advantages, how has contemporary tattooing changed from its traditional origins? Has the philosophical or sociological importance stayed the same throughout history?

U Hla Bu, Macham chief of Lon Khin village. MYANMAR. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2014. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Two Makonde "best friends" who were initiated at the same time and tattooed by the same artist. MOZAMBIQUE. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2007. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Hekoi Tau Babaga, a Motu elder of Tubuseria village. PAPUA NEW GUINEA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2012. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist

Can you talk about some of your publications and why each one was an important project for you?

Ulin and Dunggao, two Iban friends of Emperan longhouse, Sarawak. MALAYSIA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2011. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Ngòm Pok, a Lainong Naga elder of Lahe village. MYANMAR. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2014. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Martin Marikuda and Shawn "Crushy" Canete are members of the Mark of the Four Waves. CALIFORNIA, USA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2014. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist

Most of your projects focus on tribal body modifications that are slowly
disappearing. Can you describe some of these practices? How do you think we can preserve them?

Kuljelje Kalivuan, Cudjuy Patjidres, and Cangal are part of the Paiwan tattoo revival. TAIWAN. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2016. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Bahong Bilong, a Kenyah aristocrat of Sarawak MALAYSIA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2011. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Four tattooed Kayan women of Long Murum, Sarawak. MALAYSIA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2011. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist

Are there any projects coming up in 2019 that you’d like to share or promote?

A Lainong Naga woman of Lahe village who wears the distinctive tattoos of her tribe. MYANMAR. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2014. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Lars with Whang-Od in Buscalan village. PHILIPPINES. Photo: © Lars Krutak 2016. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist
Anna Aghtuqaayak (Qayaghhaq) was the last fully tattooed woman to live on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. ALASKA, USA. Photo: © Lars Krutak 1997. #LarsKrutak #tattoohistory #tattooculture #tattooanthropologist

Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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