Mark Adams' renowned images document a great Polynesian art tradition. Samoan tattooing has flourished among Samoan migrants in New Zealand, stimulated major New Zealand artists, and inspired tattoo artists and communities worldwide.
Through Adams' photography, Tatau tells the story of Sulu'ape Paulo II, the pre-eminent figure of modern Samoan tattooing. Paulo was a brilliantly innovative and often controversial man, who saw tatau as an art of international importance, and who was killed tragically in 1999. Tatau documents his practice, and that of other tufuga ta tatau (tattoo artists), in the contexts of Polynesian tattooing, Samoan migrant communities and New Zealand art.
Tatau presents 100 full-colour plates of Adams' powerful and moving images. Documentary by nature, they also ask tough questions of this scene and its history. Accompanying the photographs are two essays and two interviews: Sean Mallon writes on the tufuga, Peter Brunt writes on the photographer, and in interviews with Sean Mallon and Nicholas Thomas, Sulu'ape Paulo II and Mark Adams respectively articulate their own understandings of their practices.
Mark Adams is a distinguished documentary photographer. His work has been extensively exhibited within and outside New Zealand, and has been published in Land of Memories (with Harry Evison, 1993) and Cook's Sites: Revisiting History (with Nicholas Thomas, 1999). Sean Mallon is History Curator, Pacific at Te Papa. He is the author of a number of publications on Pacific art, including Pacific Art Niu Sila (Te Papa Press, 2002). Nicholas Thomas has written extensively on art and cultural exchange in the Pacific. His influential books include Entangled Objects (1991), Oceanic Art (1995) and Possessions (1999).