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Tyla Vaeau is a tatau practitioner, artist and researcher of Samoan (Sale’a’aumua, Aleipata and Safune, Savai’i) and Pakeha (NZ European) descent. After attending Western Springs College she went on to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts. More recently she completed a Master of Arts in Art History at the University of Auckland which focused on Samoan tatau and it’s development within the Samoan diaspora. 

A combined passion for art, culture and community has seen Tyla take up the practice of tatau. In 2009 Tyla began tattooing with machine, thanks to the encouragement and guidance of prolific tattoo artist Roger Ingerton of Roger’s Tatoo Art, Wellington. She has gone on to participate in cultural tattoo festivals locally and internationally, including the Traditional Tattoo and World Culture Festival, Mallorca, 2017 and Tatau I Mo’orea Festival, Tahiti, 2018.  As one of few female tatau practitioners, Tyla aims to contribute to the cultural continuum of tatau and is in the process of learning customary Samoan tatau under the teachings of renowned tufuga tatatau Su’a Sulu’ape Alaiva’a Petelo of Samoa.

Tyla is currently based at Vaeau Family Studio in Grey Lynn, a private studio space set up with her brother and fellow tattoo artist Hiram Vaeau, who also attended Western Springs College.

Tyla attended Western Springs College from 1999 to 2003.

School life, what it meant to me: 

I really value my time at Western Springs College. I was able to explore my identity as a NZ born Samoan, experiment with different art forms and make connections that have grown into lifelong friendships. I started designing tatau when I was in college, and it was my maths teacher Mr Fa’avesi Talamaivao that made my first tatau design into reality by getting a taulima that I had designed tattooed on him!

Greatest achievement:

There have been so many highlights in my career so far, every day I’m grateful to be able to do what I love – a standout would be in 2019 I received the Creative New Zealand Emerging Pacific Artist Award. It was significant to have tatau recognised in this way – and even more special for my children to be able to see me receive it in a filmed ceremony. 

Greatest influence:

My Dad has been a big influence on me taking up tatau and was first to volunteer to be my guinea pig when I started tattooing. My parents and aiga are my biggest supporters. 

Source of inspiration:

I’m inspired by my community. By the resilience and strength of Moana peoples. By the way our tatau has survived thousands of years and now travelled across oceans to remain an integral part of our identity. I often find myself looking to the past for inspiration, at old drawings and carvings, our ancestors have left a rich legacy. 

Working style:

My focus is Samoan and Pasifika tatau and mamanu (designs), I do a lot of line work but I also have a background in drawing and painting so enjoy working with other graphic styles too. 


My tatau are my taonga. I wear them each day with pride, they connect me with my ancestors, protect me, uplift me and guide me on my journey ahead.


Right now I’m really liking Doe Donuts which has opened up in Grey Lynn, a small wahine Pasifika business that makes amazing doughnuts!


The phrase “plastic Samoan/Maori/Tongan,” – you are not plastic, you have as much right to your culture, language, gafa, heritage as everyone else. 

What significant change would you like to see in your lifetime?

I would like to see more women involved in tatau practice. In Samoa, tatau comes from women – twin goddesses; Taema and Tilafaiga – yet we have a very male dominated practice. I would like young Pasifika women to know that there is a place for them as practitioners within this art form. I am doing my small part to open that space for us, I look forward to how that space grows. 

Thought on life:

In order to know where you are going, it is important to know where you’re from. 

Parting thought:

O le ala I le pule, o le tautua – the path to leadership is through service. This is a proverb that underpins my tatau practice, the work I do is the way I tautua (serve) my community. 

The best place to view Tyla’s work is on Instagram: @tylatatau

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