A Look At The Tattoo From The Late Eighteenth Century To Contemporary Times In The Western World.

2684 words - 11 pages

Tattooing is a process by which the skin is pierced and a dye of some kind is inserted below the surface. So really, tattooing is a form of piercing. Is it because a tattoo is so enmeshed with the body, and so visibly permanent, that it is seen as a different process with different connotations to say piercing one's ears? Westerners tend to see the body as a reflection of one's outer and inner morals, beliefs and qualities. One can display one's 'place' in society often merely by appearance. Susan Benson states that it can only be through the body and embodied action that we make visible, to ourselves and others, what we are. To scrutinize the body, then, for the signs of what may lie within or beyond it has been a powerful preoccupation within the Western tradition (2000: 235). This quote emphasises the importance of the tattoo in social and historical analysis.As well as expressing personal beliefs or affiliations tattoos serve as signs to the observing other if decipherable. Any cultural artefact can be considered a text that carries significance and which can be decoded or interpreted. The skin being the largest organ of the body presents both, a boundary between the self and others, and also a site of exchange between the self and others (Caplan 1997:113). What better place then to inscribe oneself or to be inscribed, with an emblem, a very precise visible alteration to the 'natural' state of the skin - with a speaking scar (Caplan 1997: 129). Through utilisation of the tattoo, the body serves as a permanent reminder of the past. Although negative connotations and associations stemming from the nineteenth century are still tied strongly to the practice and display of tattoos today, the tattoo can be seen as an affirmation of bodily autonomy and freedom. However this is merely a temporal construct subject to the ideals of our time. Tattooing can also be used as a significant sign of being robbed of bodily autonomy.Varied peoples and civilisations have employed the practise of tattooing for over two thousand years (Schwarz http2). It would seem that the tattoo is a universal type body modification. Tattooing, at least the open practice of it, disappeared in the West until around the mid to late eighteenth century. With the discovery of tattooing practices in the South Pacific, many men under Captain Cook became tattooed there. Embedded within their skin, they brought back with them memories of their travels. Not only did these sailors bring back personal souvenirs, but also evidence to others of their travels. A culture of tattooing sprang up in the seafaring community and continues to exist today. A renowned New York tattoo artist Samuel O'Reilly has said A sailor without a tattoo is like a ship without grog: not seaworthy (White 2002: http5). A network of symbols is used among the community specifically for workmen of the sea and ports (see appendix1). For example the tattoo of an anchor signifies that a seaman had previously sailed the...

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