Reading Resolution: “Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines” by Angela Hovak Johnston

1. A book written in North America:  Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing by Angela Hovak Johnston

List Progress: 11/30

Inuit women, living in the Arctic, had been getting tattooed for hundreds of years before Christian missionaries set out to destroy the practice. Colonialism decimated the practice so thoroughly that the last woman to wear the traditionally-applied tattoos passed away in 2005. When Inuk artist Angela Hovak Johnston learned this, she spent the next three years dedicating herself to learning the art of tattooing, and blending traditional techniques with modern applications. In 2008, she began applying traditional tattoos to herself and others, and started the Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project. This book, Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines, documents a five day event where Johnston, in partnership with two other tattooists and a photographer, tattooed over twenty Inuit women and helped them to reclaim a part of themselves and their culture that had been previously stolen.

Reawakening is rich with these women’s personal stories and backgrounds: beautiful photographs of them and their new tattoos are accompanied with testimonials about what the symbols mean to them and how it influences their identities as Inuit women. It feels like an event that was very powerful for the participants, and that sense of wonder comes through in their words. The book could have benefited with a bit more of a factual grounding: this will not be the place to learn about the development or history of Inuit tattooing, or even many of the logistics of the contemporary movement, only about these specific people and this specific organization. One of the most fascinating aspects, that could have used a deeper exploration, is the decision-making around symbology. Since the practice and knowledge was so effectively cut off by colonizers, the meanings behind the original symbols have largely been lost to time and the women and artists have to decide what they want the artwork to represent to them. This cultural reconstruction is tragic in its necessity and inspiring in its possibilities, and it would have been interesting to get into the nitty gritty. But Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines is not focused on looking back or outside, but forward and inward.

The book is formatted like a coffee table book, and has the sparseness of text that that implies, but what is conveyed is lovely and absolutely worth the time and attention. And the very point is to be about what these women need and want, so the rest really just doesn’t matter.

Would I Recommend It: Yes.

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