The Mark of Culture: an exhibition of the dying art of ethnic tattooing

 |  July 31, 2019

“If not unclothed, one would not see the hidden beauty. Without careful observation, one might only see men in loincloths standing in the middle of a cold stream”, a speech by photographer Charnpichit Pongtongsumran during the opening of his exhibition.

On 26th July, the exhibition ‘The Mark of Culture’, organised by Charnpichit Pongtongsumran and the Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University was held in Chiang Mai House of Photography. The exhibition displays photos of peoples who have Traditional Northern Thai Tattoos ‘Sak Kah Lai’, which reflects old Lanna beliefs and principles.

Charnpichit said that while travelling in Nan five years ago he saw murals on temples featuring men and women covered in Sak Kha Lai tattoos. Fascinated, he spent the next year studying this form of tattoo before spending the following four years travelling every region of Thailand to document and search for remaining ethnic groups, such as Karen, Tai Yai, Khmu, and Lawa, who wear ‘Sak Ka Lai’ tattoos. He began the project with the aim to help maintain cultures and traditions which present lifestyles according to ancient beliefs before they all vanish for good. His first destination in his travels was to Om Koi District where 80% of the people are Po and Sako Karen groups and found that there were hardly any people who get ‘Sak Ka Lai’ tattoos anymore.

In the exhibition, which focuses on Northern Thailand, many photos of people with tattoos are shown in different rooms. Each photo is written with captions featuring the story of the person. For example, Pake-a-che Yupunna said that ‘Sak Ka Lai’ tattoos are not only beautiful patterns, but are also a way to honour his parents by undergoing pain to understand just what pain his mother went through in childbirth and what his father had to bear in raising them.

The exhibition will be held until 29th September from 8.30am to 4.30pm at Chiang Mai House of Photography