Exhibitions | Salt Lake Area Exhibitions

Tatau: Marks of Polynesia at UMFA

Salt Lake City
Aug. 12 – Dec. 30

Tatau: Marks of Polynesia depicts the legacy of tatau, the art of Samoan tattooing. Tatau tells a story of history, craftsmanship, tradition and, most importantly, a people preserving their own story. See all Tatau-related events.

The exhibition explores a beautiful and sacred art that is fundamental in the preservation and spread of Samoan culture, surviving many attempts at eradication.

Comprised of over 150 powerful photographs and narratives, Tatau displays the work of Samoan tattoo masters (tufuga tā tatau), with a special focus on the influential Sulu‘ape family. Other sections highlight a new generation of apprentices and practitioners working within and influenced by tatau traditions.  Visitors will learn about the tatau process, sacred handmade tools called ‘au, and associated traditions.

Through the tatau ritual, whether it’s pe’a (traditional male tattoos) or malu (traditional female tattoos), the tattooed person is provided a strengthened sense of identity and a comprehensive understanding of Samoan culture and values. This ritual is critically important, considering the numerous attempts by missionaries and colonists to suppress cultural expressions like tattooing throughout the Pacific. Despite these efforts, the culture of tatau has thrived and influenced tattoo traditions throughout the world. A great pride for many Samoans––tatau has seen a modern revival, helping its Pacific neighbors in Tonga, Tahiti, New Zealand, Ha’waii, and the Cook Islands, by providing a reference for the preservation of their own tattooing traditions.

The traveling version of Tatau: Marks of Polynesia was curated by Takihiro Kitamura and organized by the Japanese American National Museum.


Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Marcia and John Price Museum Building

410 Campus Center Drive

Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0350

Tuesday 10 am – 5 pm
Wednesday 10 am – 8 pm
Thursday 10 am – 5 pm
Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5 pm
Closed Monday

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