Tattoo: An Art Form?

The 1st Singapore Tattoo Show at the Singapore Expo has inevitably raised a few eyebrows, most notably resulting in an editorial in The Sunday Times questioning tattoo. Tattoo enthusiasts sometimes refer to tattooists as 'artists'. But are these people truly creating art, or merely scarring the human body in a permanent way?

Tattoos have many different connotations and uses in different traditions around the world. In places like Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, the yantra tattoo is used for protection against evil and to increase luck. Most traditional tattooing in the Philippines is related to the wearer's accomplishments in life or their rank in the tribe. Henna, a temporary form of tattooing, is among the many rituals in most Indian weddings.

On the other hand, tattoos for non-traditional purposes have become more prevalent throughout the world, in North America in particular. Pop culture portrays tattooing as an art form through popular television shows like LA Ink and Miami Ink. Well-known celebrities with tattoos include Angelina Jolie, Colin Farrell, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, 50 Cent and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. The 1st Singapore Tattoo Show in particular shows that tattoos are gaining a slow acceptance into our society.

Colin Farrell and his tattoos
Or does it?

An earlier blog post mentioned how when we think about the bad in our society, one of the things we think of are tattoos. Tattoos have an almost unavoidable association with criminals. This probably stems from gang and criminal practices of using distinctive tattoos to identify themselves. In Japan, for instance, full body tattoos done the traditional Japanese way are associated with the yakuza, Japanese organized crime groups. As such, certain public bathhouses and gymnasiums even go as far as to openly ban people sporting such tattoos, in attempts to prevent the yakuza from entering.

a Japanese Yakuza tattoo

In my opinion, these negative criminal associations with tattoos play a significant role in preventing the complete acceptance of tattoos into society. In fact, those sporting tattoos do face some degree of discrimination and find it harder to find jobs.

Yes, tattoo artists now have training in technical and fine arts. Yes, advancements in tattoo pigments and the ongoing refinement of tattooing equipment has made significant improvements in the quality of tattooing. Yes, tattoos are slowly growing more popular in pop culture.

But the fact remains that these tattoos are permanent, and do carry negative connotations. Just like how racial prejudice is hard to get rid of, the prejudices that people hold about tattoos and those sporting them will be hard to eradicate. Complete acceptance of tattoos in our society is hard, but perhaps not impossible.

But if you ask me, tattoos are indeed an art form on their own.


azhar said...

Can anybody tell me if tattoos are banned in Christianity, etc? Is it mentioned in the bible?

It is banned in Islam and we have programmes and workshops to inform people where and how to remove their tattoos. All these are conducted mostly in mosques.

It is banned in Islam because muslims have to perform ablution before prayers. So yeah.

Just something to share. =)

hanjie said...

when was the show?

Char said...

The show was held over a span of three days, 9 - 11 January. I went for the exhibition on the 10th :)

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