Over the past centurythe art of tattoos and tattooing has emerged from the underbelly of society andhit mainstream culture.
Humanity has always been discovering ways in which toexpress our ideals, our beliefs, and our values, or in certain cases, a lackthereof, tattoos have been one of the prime approaches to this self-expression. The origins of the word’Tattoo’ seems to vary although most sources state that it comes from aTahitian word tatu which means ‘to mark something.’ Responsibility for the term’tattoo’ embarking on Europe falls to Captain James Cook after returning fromhis first voyage on the Pacific in the 1700s. Amongst his travels he exploredthe ancient art after first witnessing the practice in Tahiti. The western world hasadopted many perceptions on body art throughout the past century, our firsttraceable relationship with tattoos dates back to at least the 5th-century BCEwhere European tribes such as the Thracians, Picts, and Celts, used tattoos asa mark of pride and heroism. “A fifth-century B.
C. Greek vase (fig.1) depicts atattooed Thracian maenad, a female follower of the god Dionysus, killing themusician Orpheus as punishment for abandoning Dionysus to worship the sun god,Apollo.
” The Thracian maenads were true followers of their god Dionysus muchlike other tribes to their own gods and as such carried out barbaric acts tostrayers of their beliefs. This being the origin of Greece and Rome’s distasteof tattoos. Herodotus, a Greek historian described the tribes as bloodthirstysavages which adapted to a use of ‘decorating the flesh’ for punitive purposesin Greek and Rome. They would forcibly mark slaves and prisoners of war withderogatory symbols as a mark of shame. This perception on tattoos did notchange in the fall of the Roman Empire, in fact as the Christian church spreadacross Europe the tattooing traditions were forbidden by Pope Hadrian the firstin 787 AD. This resulted in the ancient Pagan practices being forced intohiding, resulting in the near extinction of Western tattoo culture. Though inthe years following, Pagans still believed that tattoos were a rite of passage,marking a person’s journey into adulthood.
This is not too dissimilar to ourmodern tradition, as the law in the UK states that you must be at the age of 18to get a tattoo. “…highest among those ages 18 to 29 (38 percent), leading theresearchers to conclude that “tattoos have become something of a trademark forMillennials.” Many centuries afterthe ancient attitudes discussed, tattoo culture returned to Europe in a wholenew light. This mostly began with the telling’s of Captain James Cook who, eventhough, the idea of tattooing was still being repressed by the Christian faith,spread tales of his adventures where he came across these mysterious tribes whowere wearers of these elaborate marks on the skin.
These tales began tointrigue and inspire people on his return to England. “emboldened by thisresponse, Cook returned from his second expedition in 1774 with a young manfrom the Polynesian island of Raiatea in tow. Omai, real name Mai, stayed inEngland for two years, and was exhibited to members of London’s high societyand featured heavily in the popular press, which devoted copious column inchesto the curious lines inked on the back of his hands.” With this, society’sperception on body art once again changed and began to grow an increasingfascination with the popularity amongst seamen who seemingly took direct inspirationfrom the men who were upon Cooks voyage. Those of which, who had gotten tattoosthemselves amongst their expedition on the South Pacific Ocean aboard the HMSEndeavour.
Tattoos were also usedfor holistic purposes as an attempt at healing, the ink would often representgods and goddesses which they believed would makes their life’s moreprosperous. For example a representation of the god Lenus was believed to aidin spiritual healing as Lenus wasa Celtic healing god. In modern tattoo culture this has been adapted into bodyart sometimes being used as a tool for remembrance or in memoriam to a personor place, I feel as though sharing that symbolic relationship with our tattooscan help in personal development for example in one of the shoots I recentlyexecuted the model had a more personal connection to his ink.
He explained thatthe owl across his chest (fig.2) with the quote ‘Through Pain Comes Strength’was a deeply meaningful tattoo for him. He said he got it because of hishistory with self-harming due to depression, he is still currently sufferingwith depression but has past the self-harming so he felt that the tattoo helpshim somehow because it reminds him that through all that he may go through heknows that eventually he will come out better off. He continued to explain thathe was not ashamed of his past but getting the tattoo permanently will alwaysremind him that whether he is still going through the depression or not that hehas gone through this dark time in his life but can come out and the tattooalso reminds him to stay optimistic. I too have a fewtattoos that represent members of my family, the first being a symbol in honorof my granddad Keith who we recently lost.
The art itself shows a collection ofstars and I chose to get this on my shoulder. The main aspect of the imagethough is the shooting star which represents the night my family lost him thisis because he was very passionate about astronomy and on the same night one ofhis friends, Mark Thompson (an astronomer, television presenter and writer) accidentlycaptured a shooting star in one of his photographs (fig.3) he had spent thatnight trying to capture. So, the image taken has become a symbol for the familyin honor of him and as such I chose to have this very personal imagery tattooed.
This is not my only tattoo in memoriam of a lost family member the other is formy grandad Phillip which is of a collection of feathers that portrays his loveof the native American culture, although the imagery is not so direct they arestill my way of honoring his memory. Others include the matching tattoos me and my mum share, presenting thememories from my childhood such as the rose from Beauty and the Beast which wasand still is one of our favourite films. My most recent though is a collectionof flowers, each one representing my brothers and sisters.