Culture the Symbolic Expressions of Tatoos

Like any other symbols, tattoos are permanent installations of symbols onto the human skin that can represent the most horrific of social disasters, a love interest, a prison affiliation, a gang affiliation, an identity, or a mental illness. Tattooing has been practiced since neolithic times. A male that was believed to live during four or five thousand, B.C., had over 57 simple tattoos on his body. The predominant later uses and origins of tattoos are believed to be Eurasian, but Egyptian mummies have been found with tattoos. Japanese tattooing goes back to the Paleolithic era. The Celtic, Germanic, and Pictish cultures used tattooing extensively, even making an impression on Julius Caesar, who wrote about them.

Today’s most powerful reminder of the evil that mankind can be capable of are represented by the tattoos that were used to forcibly identify prisoners during the German Holocaust. But tattoos have had beneficial effects in allowing identification of the dead, keeping track of high value livestock, and concealing major skin damage or discolorations. The British Navy and other military units encouraged a culture of tattooing because it allowed identification of bodies that were deteriorated or drowned. Soldiers and sailors bear tattoos as part of the bonding process of close knit combat units.

Current tattoing has it’s origins in the travels of sailors to Polynesia, where the art form was highly developed, and it’s appeal in expressing beautiful artistic, personal, social and other sentiments then spread to the rest of the Western world. Originally, civilian tattoos marked a person as socially deviant, low class, or from a prison background. Tattoos that were part of military experience were not included in negative judgments toward tattooed individual. Excessively tattooed individuals were part of the freak show circuits, and are even now considered to be obviously mentally disturbed or unable to socialize properly.

Women were generally not allowed to have tattoos. But today, the large acceptance of decorative tattoos for women, as well as the increase of women who work in the industry have increased social acceptability. Now, tattoos on men and women are read like traffic signs in order to read the individual.

Since the 1990s, there has been an explosion of butterflies, flowers, names, or beautiful symbols are generally regarded as artwork that might express a favorite style, design or symbol on a shallow level. On more serious levels, a name might symbolize a lost loved one or a current flame. A tear might symbolize that an individual has committed a murder or has lost a friend to murder. Multiple tears represent a dangerous and volatile lifestyle, as multiple friends or loved ones have been lost to murder and no other cause of death.

Christianity has no consistent restrictions against tattooing while Judaism and Sunni Islam prohibit tattooing. Shia Islam allows henna tattooing. Individual dislike or prohibitions against tattooing concern the maiming of the body, violations of the Biblical laws that were laid out in Leviticus, the “mark of the beast” as described in the book of revelations, and the fact that young people do not understand the permanent nature of tattooing. The scarring and damage from having tattoos removed are extensive and permanent consequences of bad decisions.

Beginning with European royalty, popular tattooing has waxed and waned in popularity. Now, an extensive list of celebrities bear tattoos, creating some problems with historical, period, and other filming issues. But the preponderance of celebrity tattooing now serves to encourage more symbolic expression through permanent artwork that is injected into the skin.

As a result, it is likely that tattooing is now a permanent and fixed part of Western culture. They symbolic statements about gang and prison life, as well as the tattoo as form of identification, status and affiliation are here as long as extensive prison and gang cultures exist. As an artistic statement, the increasing beauty, skill and craft will insure that tattooing as art will be a part of the art world through exhibitions and cultural assesments for a time. As a serious forensic tool, tattooing has the benefit of aiding in identification after bodies have deteriorated. As a personal choice, the wide ranging reasons for choosing a particular name, saying, design, or style will always require an explanation by the individual.

Wikipedia “Tatoos”

“Directory of Celebrity Tattos”