Tattooing in the heart of the jungle: Borneo Movie Blog pt1, by Fade FX

– Prominent hand-tap tattoo artist Fade FX is heading into the heart of the jungle with film maker Tom J. Kelly to document the Culture & Tattoos of the Iban Tribe, and also to talk with them about the illegal logging decimating their culture. The team found funding from within the international tattoo community via a successful Kickstarter campaign (article HERE) and is soon to embark on an amazing adventure! It’s our pleasure to share Fade’s rather spectacular adventure through this series of monthly blogs. Stay tuned for more! [divider]

model11 PART 1: Woohoo! I am going back to the rainforests of Borneo but this time things will be different. Thanks to the generosity of the Kickstarter contributors my journey into the jungle will be documented by film maker Tom J. Kelly. When me and Tom first sat down and discussed making a film about the tattoos of the indigenous tribes of Borneo and the devastating impact the logging industry is having on their way of life I was blown away by his passion for storytelling. I knew right away that he was the right film maker to take into the jungle despite his fear of spiders.

We had a great response to our Kickstarter campaign but a few cynical folk seemed to think we were asking for money to go on holiday. While I have holidayed in Borneo this trip would be anything but a vacation. Since the idea is for sharing as much of this adventure on the TAMblog as possible, I wanted to say that although International travel, airports and the internet may have made Borneo more accessible,  journeying into the rainforest is actually still pretty dangerous and it takes considerable planning.

Here are part of the concerns and logistics so far in this process. Last time I visited Borneo and stayed with the native Iban tribe I only had me to worry about. This time there will be two of us plus all the equipment needed to film a professional documentary. The logistics of getting the camera and computer gear to Borneo are enough of a headache. Working out how many batteries to take to keep us filming in the depths of the jungle far from electricity was not on my mind last time I visited the Iban.


We are only spending 2 weeks in Borneo so we need to plan the filming schedule to maximise our time with the Iban but also allow enough flexibility to respond to allow the documentary to develop organically. There will be no time to relax when we are filming as we need to maximise our time with the Iban. We will be doing long days and eventful nights under the jungle stars.


The Kickstarter target we set was bare minimum amount needed to make the film so we are putting it all ‘on screen’ and roughing it ourselves. No luxury hotels or first class flights for me or Tom. Our other issue is the Christianisation of Iban culture. Up until relatively recently the Iban still practiced headhunting and this made them one of the most feared Tribes in Borneo. Catholicism has mellowed their warrior spirit and many Iban are embarrassed about their warlike forbearers. When delving into their heritage we need to tread softly and show respect but with less than fourteen days in the jungle we must make the most of opportunities to discover more about the tribes colourful, controversial past. Then of course there is the weather. It’s not called the rainforest for nothing and tropical storms can turn hard packed roads into a quagmire and gentle rivers into raging torrents making travel hazardous at best, impossible at worst.


So even though this trip to Borneo is not a holiday yet I am looking forward to it far more than any of my previous visits! It will be a privilege to be able to share my journey with Tom and allow him to record the last of the elder tribal tattooists whose unique art work lies at the heart of Iban culture. The influx of western values is eroding the old way of life and the few remaining hand tapped tattooists are struggling to find and keep apprentices. It is our great hope to document all this, finally, before it’s gone forever. The problems they face are increasingly compounded by the deforestation at the handsof illegal loggers. The Iban are a noble, proud people and were once the most feared warriors in the whole of Borneo but their jungle way of life ill-equips them to handle the complexities of the international logging trade. It is my hope that by meeting with the tribes chiefs I can give them an outside perspective on the issue of logging and help them better deal with the threats they face.

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The documentary sets out to show the beauty of Iban art and the culture it springs from but it is also perhaps the last chance to film the Iban hand tapped tattooists before they vanish forever. It is my hope that the film will catapult interest in the Iban and prompt people to become actively involved in saving the rainforest and preserving a way of life that in many ways dates back to the stone age.


It’s important to do this before the beginning of the end for the Iban and the opportunity presented here is entirely thanks to the generous people who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign.  Aside from the individuals who contributed their hard earned cash to the fund I have to give a special thanks to our 2 main sponsors Tattoo Artist Magazine & Skin Deep Magazine. Both will be covering the documentary and providing help and support with spreading the message to the tattoo community that Iban tattooing can be saved.

[button color=”green” size=”medium” link=”” ]Read part2 HERE[/button]

The Next update is Coming Soon! Thanks for the support! –Fade FX


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Tattoo Artist since 1990 and creator/publisher of Tattoo Artist Magazine since 2003

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