Story by Kevin Whitton
Photo by Dana Edmunds
Hundreds of tattoo machines drone as live punk pulses through the room. Thousands of people, most of them inked, many spectacularly, stroll among the booths, browsing binders of designs and scheduling appointments. At the center of this electric, sixty-cycle hum, a handful of tattoo artists— cultural practitioners, really— quietly tap on bodies with handmade tools of wood, albatross bone and turtle shell to pierce the skin, an ancient method most tattoo enthusiasts have never seen firsthand.
Danny Casler spent the better part of two years working with the state of Hawai‘i’s Department of Health, lawmakers and elite tattoo artists from around the world to make the Pacific Ink and Art Expo, the largest tattoo exposition in the Pacific region, possible. After a successful inaugural year in 2012, Casler is bringing body art’s history and culture — along with four hundred tattoo artists — to the Blaisdell Center this August 3 and 4 for the second of what he hopes will become an annual event.
In addition to the festival atmosphere featuring celebrity artists, de rigueur bikini and tattoo contests, a skate ramp and a classic car show, the event celebrates tattooing’s deep cultural roots. “At the center of the main stage, the pinnacle thing is the tapping,” says Casler. “Hawaiian tattoo artist Keone Nunes, the Sulu’ape family from Samoa and Horitoshi I from Japan have an area for people to see how tattoo was done two thousand years ago and how it’s progressed to this point.”
Nunes, a respected traditional Hawaiian tattoo artist, is grateful for the opportunity to be both working and educating people about Hawaiian tattoo at the exposition. “It’s about time that Hawai‘i has something like this,” says Nunes. “Throughout the rest of the world, they have all kinds of conventions, and I’ve been able to share with a lot of other cultures. It’s really nice to be able to share with people at home.”