Curating inscription: the legacy of textual exhibitions of tattooing in colonial literature

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Werner, Anne Elizabeth
School of English Literatures, Philosophy and Languages - Faculty of Arts
thesis / dissertation description
This thesis argues that the colonial context of the tattoo‘s reintroduction to the west, and the exhibitionary nature of its cultural presence in the Euro-American public‘s consciousness, has been mediated and to a degree determined by cultural understandings of processes of exhibition and display. The tattoo‘s role in performances of Otherness has allowed it to be manipulated and utilized by authors who, I argue, ‗curate‘ their textual artifacts in accordance with the conventions offered by other exhibitionary mediums. The complicated nature of the tattoo‘s relationship with popular cultural representations of colonialism has meant that the reclamation of traditional tattooing, for many cultures, demands an engagement with the colonial histories of representation illuminated in this thesis. Selected texts, including Herman Melville‘s Typee and Omoo, a number of beachcomber narratives, the narratives surrounding the captivity of Olive Oatman, and contemporary representations of Maori in tourist imagery, are examined in order to expose the colonial history of representations of tattooing and the irreversible impact this history has had upon the west‘s conception of ‗tattoo‘. The literary analysis focuses upon the concept of the text as exhibition, and the author as curator, and uses theoretical approaches from museum, performance and tourism studies, including work by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Anne Maxwell, Jane Desmond, Tony Bennett and Dean MacCannell to strengthen and nuance the textual readings.