Interview with Aia Leu by Ino Mei from Heartbeat Ink, January 2018
Where were your pencil illustrations based on?
Aia: When Felix & Loretta returned from their amazing travels in Morocco, they decided to write about the tattooed tribes they had met there. Felix had the idea and announced I had the job of drawing the illustrations. To begin with, he gave me a bunch of photographs they had taken of the tattooed women there and so the pencil portraits I drew were based on these. The photos were small and most of their tattoos were done years ago; sometimes the details had faded a bit and I often had to use a magnifying glass to see the detail better.
How long did it take you to create all the 112 drawings of “Berber Tattooing” as well as the pencil illustrations?
Aia: I was only seventeen years old during the spring of 1989, and it took me about three months to draw all of the 37 portraits. The tattoo designs for the book were drawn later, in the summer of 2017, these I did from the original tracings that Loretta had made in Morocco, from Loretta’s notes and from photos if any existed. First I drew them in pencil, and then transferred them to ink on paper. I tried to reproduce accurately the tattoo designs, again sometimes it was difficult to see the details or they were very faded, but as each design was drawn in a particular way I soon began to recognise the technique of the different artists’ styles who had drawn them.
The book is published by “SeedPress”; your publications. How was the process of gathering all the material for this publication?
Aia: Loretta had their original notebook from the journey and a box full of handwritten lists of the symbols, rough drawings of the maps and photographs and of course the finished portraits. Everything was mixed up and the original idea had been to have charts with the designs and their meanings and places tattooed on the body. We soon abandoned that idea, as it was obvious that each symbol had different meanings or placements. The story of each of the women was a better way to present the information gathered, and putting it together was like a puzzle and a real labour of love for me, originally I thought it would be a few weeks’ work! There was no deadline, and with me as SeedPress publishing the book, this gave Loretta the choice of how she wanted the book to finally look.
What inspired you to make this book?
Aia: In about 2013 I think, Loretta decided to restart the project which Felix and herself had never had the chance to complete. I offered to help and it seemed natural that we would work together on the book. Loretta on finishing the research and text, and I drawing the tattoo designs, editing and publishing it. By 2017 the main work was done and in the end, for the text editing we engaged the help of JoannaKate Grant, so the whole book was a project worked on by three women! Felix was very meticulous and from him I learned to always triple check details, I hope he would have been proud to see the finished book.
What are your feelings about “Berber Tattooing”?
Aia: The women and men’s stories and faces in Berber Tattooing are fascinating and unforgettable, and I think it would have been a great loss to tattoo culture if the research Felix & Loretta gathered in 1988 had never seen the light of day. I think it is also a glimpse into a point in time, where an old custom is dying out and the new generation deciding their own choices and it’s also a story of the strength and power of women in a male dominated culture.
Are you currently working on a new book?
Aia: The next project for me is, again a joint project with Loretta. We really enjoyed working together! It is a book documenting Felix’s early tattoo Flash from 1978 to 2002, it will show the process of his work with a little of his tattoo history too and include photographs of his tattoo works. I’m looking forward to going through the archives with Loretta to gather Felix’s Flash drawings, it will be fascinating to see all the familiar drawings again from my childhood.
Berber Tattooing in Morocoo’s Middle Atlas.
Published in 2017 is available from www.seedpress.ie