Art Matters Grant: Bequia
The tiny Caribbean island of Bequia is one of the few places in the world that whale hunting is legal. Using the traditional methods of the early New Englanders that partially settled the island in the 18th century, the island relies on and celebrates the whale hunt. Historically, tattooing has always been a part of whaling culture, and the Bequia are no exception.
In the winter of 2010 I spent a number of weeks in Bequia tattooing whalers. All of the work I tattooed I did for barter of items such as fish, whale bones, meat and oil, copious amounts of rum, boating excursions—some complete with historical accounts, and instructions on the local style of boat building and spear fishing.
While in Bequia, I created dozens of tattoos, not just on whalers, but spanning the entire strata of the tiny island society. I was impressed by the people’s resilience—whether they were a whaler or drug dealer—they share a resolve to maintain their own cultural heritage and heed the pitfalls of the encroaching tiger of tourism and development with caution. This resolve stems from the one activity that is the backbone of their culture. When a whale is struck, it’s more significant than the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras and Thanksgiving rolled up into one. Their passion for this one longstanding tradition but also their awareness of the opposition they face from the rest of the world shapes their identity.