Keone Nunes (Native Hawaiian) prefers not to be in the spotlight, so the traditional tattoo artist said it was a little unnerving to be the center of attention at the recent MAMo Wearable Art Fashion Show in Honolulu where he was honored with the 2015 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award from First Peoples Fund.
"But I was also very honored and humbled," said Nunes, who is one of four artists receiving the prestigious award that celebrates Native artists making significant contributions to their communities as culture bearers.
The honoring was held last month at the Hawaii Theater, hosted by Vicky Takamine, a 2013 Community Spirit Award honoree.
More than a dozen people modeled tattoos that had been done by Nunes, many of them representative of the traditional Polynesian work he has been doing for the last two decades. Traditional tattooing is done by tapping one stick to another instead of using a machine, and is a process that includes a ceremony.
During the MAMo show, Nunes said he was overwhelmed as he was presented with the award by First Peoples Fund staff and given a star quilt. As he was presented with the award, more than a dozen Native Hawaiians who proudly display his work on their bodies joined him onstage.
It was also special to be part of the annual MAMo art show, which showcases six to nine artists and designers each year. Nunes said he made several connections during the evening that could turn in to opportunities for more work down the road.
"Quite a few people asked me to get in contact with them," he said.
Nunes said he does his work not only to help revitalize traditional tattooing, but also to help people of all backgrounds rediscover their ancestral traditions and cultures. He works in the Nanakuli Valley near his home and has connected with tribes in Northern California and New Zealand to help them learn traditional tattooing.
It's one of the very reasons he was chosen for the award, said First Peoples Fund President Lori Pourier.
"Keone's work is remarkable not only for the fact that he has tirelessly worked to reintroduce an important art form, but also because he has a heart and a passion to inspire people of other cultures to do the same and rediscover their traditional art forms," she said.
While Nunes said he takes great care in doing the tattoos, he doesn't feel ownership of the work like a typical artist might.
"Once I do the work, I don't think of it as my piece," he said. "It's theirs."