‘Thou shalt never get a tattoo’. These words were practically seared into my mind the moment I even understood what it meant to be a person. To this day, my parents can breathe a sigh of relief to hear that their only daughter is still unmarked. But I’d be lying if I were to say I had never walked into a studio, sitting there convinced I was going to get one, then walk straight out 15 minutes later. Twice. Nevertheless, as a creative able to quote the pages of a book that preaches against it, I’d like to close this one and open a new one called 2016.
Apart from the physical conditions you undergo, why is there such a stigma about body art? And yes, that is exactly what I’m willing to call it, because it is. Traditionally tattooing was used for identification. Whether it be to a certain tribe, a status in society, or your job. For cultures who treated it as a taboo activity, tattooing was traditionally used to mark criminals. It seems more often than not it’s easy to forget about how tattooing can help with a sense of identification to oneself. Tattooing can be used to explain stories and events. When we use the term ‘it’s a part of who I am’, we’re embracing a quality or experience that shapes us. A tattoo can be seen as simply the tangible representation of that.
I’d like to talk about something that was said to me the other day concerning tattoos and my ‘job’. My ‘job’ is to curate various different artists from all different cultures and backgrounds, and share their stories. I’d like to think of it as a business in which I don’t have to put on a suit, but I do have to remain professional in some sense. But why should someone not be taken seriously in a finance or business background if they do have a tattoo? Surely it suggests a certain level of creativity; something that no machine could ever replicate.
Often you’ll hear the phrase ‘I’d only ever get a tattoo of something that really meant something to me.’. Yes, 100%. There is something radical and unpredictable about the simple aesthetics of a tattoo. I’m not necessarily condoning a growling tiger on your chest, but I’m not rating you any differently if that’s what you like. While I understand in a professional environment it suggests a certain level of recklessness, I don’t think anyone could argue there is any sort of correlation between one’s cognitive capability, and what one does in their personal life. i.e. a tattoo doesn’t buzz brain cells out of you.
The only perspective I can really speak from, is from that of a young woman. Here are several quotes from my friends: “That could be super pretty.” — “I don’t think tattoos are sexy on girls.” — “I don’t know, what if you get tired of the concept.” — “It depends where you put it, but it could be hot.”. If you haven’t noticed I’d sort of like to address the elephant in the room around the idea that tattoos are meant to be ‘sexy’. “No, because I don’t think it’s sexy” is not a good enough answer for me. Here’s the double edged sword of tattoos: get them in a place where it is not easily visible. But those places aren’t shown for a reason. We all know the infamous tramp stamp; shout out circa 2000. That being said, if nobody can see them, and that’s what we’re all so worried about, then surely what does it matter; the tattoo is for the individual – or at least supposedly. More than that, it seems through modern culture, body art can be associated with ‘gang culture’, which is often frowned upon if from both ends of the spectrum if you’re not in that group.
The reason why I don’t have a huge problem with tattoos has more to do with the fact that I don’t think I’ve grown up sexualizing things. I’ve grown up seeing a naked body as art rather than taboo. And really, this is where the stigma thrives: the fine line between art and taboo. During the 19th century, Gustave Courbet displayed a painting entitled ‘L’Origine du Monde’ or ‘Origin of the World’. For anyone who’s ever seen it, you can understand why it was shocking. It still is, yet many artists view it as art rather than a particularly vulgar piece.
I do believe there will always be a divide on the subject of tattoos simply because we’re all different. That being said, I strongly do think it’s time to turn the page and embrace tattoos as an art form that has actually expanded in technology beyond the greenish faded sailor tattoos you see on older men. Like much of contemporary art, the purpose is to convey a message and interact with an audience in a manner that reflects he or she who bears it. The interaction is not limited to one reaction, and is in fact interested in creating discussion. Art is interested in societal progression, and I think more than anything, whether or not you like them, tattoos are very much a part of that movement.
If you’re interested in tattoos, here are some truly amazing artists that I personally follow and admire: