Tāmoko artist supports ban against ink that may cause cancer

By Tumamao Harawira

Renowned tāmoko artist Anikaaro Harawira is a part of a collective of artists looking to revive ancient methods of producing ink for tāmoko.

Tattoo artists in Europe are opposed to a blanket ban on some chemicals used in tattooing, which the European Union (EU) claims can cause cancer and other adverse reactions.

Anikaaro says she supports the ban by the EU, which came into effect on Tuesday. "I would highly recommend immediately aborting chemicals used to make ink. Tattooing is a culture and has been around forever. Cancer has never been a part of that time. It is related to specific Ink, that specific manufacturers are producing to water down the solution to make a profit."

The ban mainly affects the use of colored ink, and Anikaaro says the onus is on the artist to provide ink that is both high in quality and low in toxic chemicals that may cause adverse reactions in clients. 

"I use dynamic, or Bone Black Alla Prima, and to date have never had an issue with it. I won't use anything else, because there is no need to."

"If artists are buying cheap ink, and the receivers are falling ill because of it, then that is the fault of the artist."

Regardless of a potential ban on ink here in New Zealand, Anikaaro says tāmoko artists are very much into bringing back not only traditional forms of tāmoko, but also traditional ingredients.

"We are already practicing the making of traditional ink. Specifically for us up home. We are infamous for the blue tinge in our ngārahu from Kauri Gum. Methodically trying different ways, and processes to refine it to a silky clean heavy fluid containing, bird fats, berries for binding, and the catching of the soot from the burning Kauri, all processed over a well-monitored heat to avoid any splitting".

She says the ultimate goal is to bring back traditional tāmoko in all its forms and processes

"Imagine that. Uhi, and traditional ink, no māuiui."