Flash Frontier

Kōrero: Vaughan Rapatahana with Pauline Canlas Wu

Interviews and Features

Vaughan Rapatahana: Can you please tell us about your own background?

Pauline Canlas Wu: I was born in Hong Kong and went to school there. My mum is Filipino and my father Hong Kong Chinese. My Mum later married a Kiwi and we all moved to New Zealand where I went to Morrinsville College for a while and then graduated in media arts from Wintec in Hamilton. My first language is Cantonese, but I am also fluent in Mandarin and English – written and spoken for all of them. My Tagalog is not so good though!

VR: Can you also please tell us more about your tattooing career? Why did you take up tattooing? Where are you based now – that is, where do you live now? Just a bit of background…

PCW: I have always been interested in drawing and painting and have designed – for example – many of your (Rapatahana’s) book covers, some of which are shown here. I returned to Hong Kong to live a few years ago and began as an apprentice tattooist. Now I run my own tattoo business – Polam Tattoo – and am still here in Kowloon, where I have apprentices of my own. I also am doing a lot of dubbing for local television programmes, so I am always busy.

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I tattoo mostly in fine ink needle. A lot of Asia-related themes obviously because this where I am based right now. Back in Aotearoa I was drawing more Kiwi influenced material.

VR: Do you think tattoos tell stories? That is, when a tattoo is designed by you, is there a story involved?

PCW: Yes, definitely. I am asked to design and then tattoo all sorts of things for my customers and there is always a reason for their wanting some specific tattoo. For example, I often get requests for ‘pet tattoos’ – that is, people want their pets displayed or remembered. Or the ‘family-ties tattoos’ where generations of a family are portrayed like a grandparent and a grandchild together.

These individuals want lifelong depictions on their bodies because the stories contained in their tattoos are that meaningful. Of course, I get a lot of relationship tattoo requests too.

VR: Do you think you might have some examples of your tattoo designs for us to include, please? Maybe you can describe what these designs mean. Do they have a story included or are they ‘just’ a design?

PCW: Sure. Here are some of my designs and a bit about the stories they tell. The “Dogs in Heaven Forever” recalls the owner’s dogs who died. The “Wedding Rings” one shows exactly that – wedding rings tattooed onto the partner’s hands. The “Memories of Loved One” depicts cherry blossoms on the girl’s arm. This was photographed by her boyfriend, and both are Japanese customers – cherry blossoms being big in Japan.

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Now, the other one concerns a girl who went through and recovered from depression. The tattoo shows an anime character named Osamu Dazai. She really likes the character who supported her during her illness. Thus her tattoo.

I draw the designs according to their descriptions – and then tattoo.

So, as you can see, I get a variety of requests for different reasons.

Pauline Canlas Wu was born and raised in Hong Kong SAR. She has also lived in Aotearoa New Zealand and graduated in Media Arts from Wintec, Hamilton. She also visits the Philippines regularly to visit her family there. Currently she is a full-time tattoo artist in Kwun Tong, Hong Kong.
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