Cultural Memory Inscribed in the Skin: Symbols of Nation as Tattoo Art in New Zealand

  • Claudia Bell University of Auckland, New Zealand


In New Zealand there is a strand of cultural memory popularly known as 'kiwiana'. The term embraces everyday popular cultural practices - beach activities in summer, food rituals  - as well as an array of vintage artefacts.  The latter are locally manufactured items originating mainly in the 1940s-50s, when import restrictions limited the availability of household goods.  Local makers created products for the domestic market, for instance grocery items (and their logo-bearing containers), household crockery and toys. Those items, intrinsically representations of white (pakeha) culture, are fondly recalled by the baby boomers, and have become popular collectibles.  Images of the same items have now become prevalent as decorative motifs on home wares and clothing.

Recently a further celebratory strand of kiwiana has now appeared: the inscription of its motifs as extensive permanent skin tattoos. While Maori have always practiced meaningful skin tattoo, and whilst body tattoos in general have joined the realm of fashion, this is something new.  Here we see a recasting of the kiwiana images of popular cultural memory, now drawn onto the body.  One wearer of such a tattoo, a 26 year old plumber, said 'I love New Zealand. I am very proud of who we are and I wouldn't change being a kiwi for the world'. His design, a map of New Zealand on his back in filled with kiwiana items, shows his personal subscription to the populist representations that are utilised as apolitical definition of kiwi­ ness.  Kiwiana tattoo as a growing everyday practice is the focus of this paper.


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How to Cite
BELL, Claudia. Cultural Memory Inscribed in the Skin: Symbols of Nation as Tattoo Art in New Zealand. Култура/Culture, [S.l.], n. 6, p. 43-50, nov. 2014. ISSN 1857-7725. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 22 feb. 2024.
English Articles


tattoo, nation, New Zealand, collective memory, nostalgia, kiwiana