FAAM Four: Sarah Whalen-Lunn

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FAAM Four is a series of brief interviews with Indigenous artists across nations and disciplines. 

A woman with dark eyes and a tattooed chin stands in an icy landscape wearing a coat, scarf, and knitted cap

Sarah Whalen-Lunn. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Ayaqi Whalen-Lunn is an Iñupiaq multimedia artist specializing in Inuit hand-poked and skin-stitched tattooing. This ancient form of tattooing involves sewing designs directly into the skin or poking the designs on one spot at a time using a needle dipped in dye. Increasingly, Alaska Native women are having their faces tattooed in the manner of their ancestors, and Whalen-Lunn is part of that revival. She also tattoos contemporary designs for Native and non-Native people.

Whalen-Lunn says of her art, “My work stems from trying to facilitate conversation on the social issues facing us as a community. As a visual artist, I work intuitively, showing the world my perspective and my place in it. It is always a very true reflection of what I feel as a woman in the world today. As a traditional tattoo artist, I work to help reconnect people to our culture and reclaim our heritage of tattooing that was taken from us as we became a colonized people. Whether it is our traditional patterns or modern imagery, I try to help tell people’s stories, help give strength and heal by way of reconnecting to tradition and community.”

Whalen-Lunn lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband and their five children.

A young woman with a tattooed chin

Inuit face tattoo by Sarah Whalen-Lunn. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Whose art is interesting/inspiring to you right now?

In Alaska, we have such an amazing community dedicated to relearning and teaching language, traditional dance, young people embracing their culture. We have groups of women marching in Washington to protest for our rights. We have movements organizing, like Defend the Sacred, calling attention to protecting our lands, waters, and people. I get my inspiration from everything I see, hear, read and experience but, mostly from the everyday people standing up in the world to unapologetically make a difference.

What are you working on right now?

This spring I received a grant through the Rasmuson Foundation to travel, research and tattoo in our Northern communities. So far we have been able to make it to three out of the five villages I had hoped for. In Anchorage, I tattoo, paint, and work on other art projects full time.

Tattoo by Sarah Whalen-Lunn. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What is the best advice you’ve received as an artist?

The best advice I have received as an artist is to never stop. Work every day no matter your discipline. Don’t be discouraged by “No.” just try again. Also to realize that no one else’s path will be your own. We all have to walk a different road towards what we want. Last being what fellow artist and tattooing partner, Holly Nordlum tells me all the time: “Be crazy brave! Be crazy brave.” It rings in my ears in moments of self-doubt and helps guide me always.

Where can people find your work? 

For now, social media has been my biggest way of getting my work out there. You can follow me on Instagram under inkstitcher.

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