Gold Arts Award – Part D “Should a permanent art form such as tattooing be used to show our identities?
In the western modern-day sense and also in the cultural historical sense, as seen in some parts of India where traditional meaning is of paramount importance”Before carrying out any research on this topic, or gaining other people’s opinions. I initially believed that using tattooing to show our identities was a positive thing, even in some parts of India where it marks peoples “class”. As I believed the culture and history of It outweighed any negative aspects of using this permanent art form in this way. This was probably influenced also by my own tattoos, as I have one which is Thai, and which has been done in the traditional stick and poke method. The whole element of it being a cultural tattoo with a rich history is a major factor in why I got the tattoo done in the first place. For me getting my tattoos was part of showing who I was, and the idea of displaying part of my identity so clearly and permanently is something which I really love and feel I appreciate.
The BBC article which inspired me to think of this arts issue was titled “Don’t brand me” and was written in a way which shed a negative light on the historical tattoos, as the article was also about the forcing people to have them done. This article was shown to all those who gave their opinion for this essay.
In this sense, I disagree with showing identities through this form, as when they are forced upon someone it becomes a different thing altogether. However as this is such a complicated issue, getting options of others really helped in the discovery of my own developed opinion on the case. I gained opinions from strangers, my own grandmother (to account for a generational opinion), a friend who is tattooed from head to toe and a non-permanent tattoo artist (henna artist).
Georgia (the henna artist) believes that how we present ourselves visually is a great way to show identity, however, for her since discovering henna her wanting of permanent tattoos has depleted. She also makes the point that people are fluid, so tastes and how we see ourselves changes throughout the years, and this can make tattoos a regretful thing for some people. But that for a larger staying power, the tattoo needs to mark something special, rather than just being a “pretty” aesthetic image you wanted in that moment of your life. So, for these reasons she believes that non-permanent forms should be used to show identity on the body. Georgia also made the interesting point of saying that for the cultural historical use of tattoos, people should be allowed to choose to participate or not. Therefore, resulting in ability to change your status in that society. However, also believing that these cultural traditions should be respected.
I think in an ideal world; cultural tattoos should be a choice and not something which is forced. However, when people can come in and out of getting these traditional types of tattoos then the culture of it is at risk of being diluted. Taking my own Thai tattoo as an example, in the past Thai tattoos were only given to warriors by monks. Now that there is a mass market for them, people from all over the world travel to get them (myself included) to obtain a bit of history and culture, even though it’s not something from my own/others own culture. Due to this I can’t help but feel the culture of these tattoos has been somewhat diluted.
A much stronger opinion which opposes Georgia’s come from my grandmother. She views permeant marking of the body as “scaring”. She also comes from a strict catholic background, where to her art is the pitchers seen in church. However, she also believes the tattooing in India, which is used to mark someone’s class should be carried out. In her opinion, she relates it to showing her identity by wearing the cross around her neck, saying that people who didn’t go to church saw the cross and wouldn’t talk to her. Also saying this was a very “normal” occurrence.
I strongly disagree with my grandmother’s opinion that tattooing isn’t an art form. From reading the opinion she wrote for me it made me realise how much I appreciate the “art” behind the tattoo, and also the art of the person wearing the tattoo. As it was most likely their decision on placement, size and the overall look they wanted to create with it. However, I can understand her viewpoint when she talks about keeping the tattoos which symbolise status in India. As she very much enjoyed wearing her cross, even in times where she was shut out by people of a different faith. She still proudly stood by hers. Therefore, people of an older generation in India may except and to an extent make the most of the “class” their tattoo shows. With it being the younger generation who have more access to the modern world through the internet and can therefore compare their lives with others, resulting as seeing the tattoos given in their culture as something negative. Which again, it may rightly be.
The opinion I got from a member of the public (named Vinny) (from asking people in the city centre of Norwich) who I could see was heavily tattooed gave very interesting thoughts on the topic. He believed the expressing ourselves is part of our identity/human nature. And thereby permanent art is used to do this. He also suggested that art is open to interpretation, so just because tattoos might be used by someone to show their identity, it doesn’t mean they are used in this way for all people. Saying that there was more meaning for body art in the past, and now it’s more of a “fashion” statement.
I think Vinny makes a really good point about there being more meaning in body art in the past. As now tattoos are seen as more of a statement, used to shock people, be different from others and thereby there is potentially less identity meaning to them. Overall Vinny did believe that tattoos should be used to show identity, and didn’t make much of a comment on the cultural historical use of tattoos.
My final opinion comes from my partner, who I already knew was against tattoos (he has none himself) and who has strong opinions. His opinion was that tattoos do convey identity. But that its relative to the social culture they are enacted in. He suggested that if you are conveying part of your identity that is likely to change then it’s not such a good idea. Such as a band or a first girlfriends name. However, he did suggest that if its related to a religion or cultural practice then that’s a good thing, and is something which is more “solid”. However, in the case of being given an identity you don’t want, like in some parts of India where tattoos are used to symbolise someone’s class. Then that’s more complicated. As these types of tattoos will mean different things to different groups, and no doubt some people in the community (generally speaking the older generation) may except the status quo and even believe in it.
I think that the point that some people in the Indian culture except the status quo is a good point. As this type of tattooing is something that people have grown up in for generations, and therefore know no different. However, this doesn’t mean it is right and not needing to be changed. As this becomes a more complex arts issue when tradition of tattooing is involved, I believe that education is the thing that is needed in these communities. Furthermore, this issue could be opened up further by exploring the reasons why some people in that community rebel/disagree with this form of identity showcasing, and why those in the community who agree with it do.
My concluding thoughts are; to me tattooing is an art form, and one which has the ability to be as expressive as you wish it to be. I think for this reason it should be used to show our identities. As for me the bottom line is we should be free in choosing how we want to look, what we want to identify as and how much or little we do this. Obviously in the modern western world we live in it is easy enough to accomplish this. However, using a permanent art form to show identity in the cultural historical sense is something I have developed my opinion of further. As I now believe that people from these cultures should have a choice in the matter, as for them the ink marked on their skin has much larger consequences on their ability to accomplish certain things in life, or lead themselves out of the poverty they may live in. This is something that tattooed people in the western world don’t have to deal with to the same extent, and therefore would be hard for any of us to really understand how this permeant art form affects the life of someone in a strict culture.
I think to combat this, education needs to play a bigger role, as I’ve said before. Also, this education needs to be aimed at those who carry out the cultural tattoo markings, that way these types of societies have a better chance in opening up their understanding of what they are doing and why it is wrong.
Q and A: please leave any questions about this essay or comments below!