Tuesday, April 10, 2012

focus! focus! focus!

A cross-section of my ever-expanding tattoo library. More next to my bed for pre-sleep perusal of course! My art opening was an amazing experience and I'm so excited to have had the opportunity to create the pieces and share them with the local art community. It will be on display through May 3rd.

Now, back to reading so I can write some tidbits for you!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Next up! Slightly off schedule

I currently had a couple unrelated opportunities in my artistic life come my way that are going to eat up my time for the month of march. I was hoping with this blog to put out new content at least once a week, but it may be less. And since it's new there definitely aren't enough followers to get feedback on what you guys what to see yet. But!

Currently I'm researching Modern Primitivism as a movement and I will be writing the next feature on this aspect of the body modification culture. Stay tuned :)

Fun fact teaser: Fakir Musafar's birth name is Roland Loomis, and he is alive and well at 81 years young!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Up next!

Here is a sample of some upcoming topics for anthr.ified:

  • origins and context of the Moko
  • origins of Bushido
  • Westernization of tribal styles
  • Schools: old and new, East and West
  • coming of age across the globe through modification
  • sideshow lives and body modification
  • piercing as public display

and more :)

What would you like to see and read about? Comment with some topics that interest you!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Excerpt: A brief history of tattooing

The following is an except from my bachelor's thesis analyzing women in tattooing. This is a revised excerpt that was published in the Clare Market Review, a UK graduate university journal published by the Student Union of the London School of Economics. The excerpt was written in 2008 and originally served as a general outline of the topics to be covered in the paper; the revised version stands alone as a (very!) brief historical survey.

The intended audience was the academic, nonparticipant of body modification practices so some of the information may seem obvious or common sense if you are modified.

A brief history of tattooing              
The art and practice of tattooing has had a dramatic history, riding waves of popularity and discredit and spanning the globe for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence dates tattooing to as early as 12,000 BC (Webb 31). While many discoveries were chieftains, such as the Scythian chief uncovered with extensive tattooing that was at least 2,000 years old, it turns out women have been a part of tattooing for its entire history. The man often considered responsible for the dissemination of tattooing to the West was Captain James Cook, whose voyage to the South Pacific in 1779 led him to cultures rich with ink (Pitts 5, Webb 21). The Maori of New Zealand who Cook encountered tattoo both men and women extensively and continue the tradition to this day, even more so among women than men in recent years (Webb 49). Sociologist Michael Atkinson interviewed a number of Canadian tattooed women about the use of non-mainstream body modifications and writes,
    These women [the ones interviewees] point out that women have participated equally with men in most forms of body modification around the world. They are aware, for example, that in ancient Egypt men were not allowed to be tattooed; only women engaged in the practice and used the tattoos as talismans of fertility and sexuality. In the Mayan culture, women were widespread users of tattooing, piercing, and scarification to enhance the body aesthetically. Women in Borneo tattoo designs on their body as indicators of their social lineage, and Nubian women scar themselves to represent their fertility to males. Finally, Tiv women endure painful rituals of the flesh such as scarification to proclaim individual qualities of strength, courage, and fearlessness. Thus…the contemporary renaissance in tattooing practices within Western cultures confronts notions of docile femininity by appearing at least consciously theatrical, and possibly vulgar or 'grotesque,' when compared to traditional gender expectations (175).
When Cook returned to England, he brought the art of tattooing with him, leading sailors and aristocrats to bear the marks, including the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) who made discreet tattoos fashionable among aristocratic circles beginning in 1862. When the practice spread to the working class, it began to be identified as a deviant practice of marginalized parts of society (Pitts 5). Even among the cultural elite, the tattooed slowly began to be considered “eccentrics of high society” (Schiffmacher 9).
Women were especially discouraged from participating in the practice in the West until the late 19th century, with “unladylike” topping the lists of reasons to steer clear of tattooing (Webb 49). Since the 1960's, however, tattooing has found new life in the hands of women of the West and has been taken up not only as something with which to adorn the body, but as a powerful form of social discourse centered on the body. The famous tattoo artist Spider Webb explains it best in his book Pushing Ink, one of the first published books chronicling the history and culture of tattoos in the West, when he wrote that in “the ritual of tattooing there is a transformation which goes beyond the power of verbal exchange” (Webb 18). While men and women both use this feature to its fullest advantage, women have truly embraced the communicative potential of modifying the body in non-mainstream ways to comment on their experience of being in the world.
In the initial return to popularity in the 1960's, popular and empowered figures like Janis Joplin inspired more women in the West to become tattooed than ever (Webb 42). In feminist thought, research emphasizes that the body, and in particular the female body, is a text upon which cultural codes are imposed, dictating the terms and conditions of femininity; therefore, body projects involve maintaining these conditions and/or consciously subverting them (Atkinson 15). The maintenance side consists of culturally acceptable modifications like breast augmentation, excessive dieting or exercising, and other such projects that stem from “exaggerated or caricatured expressions of dominant ideals of the feminine body” (Atkinson 16). Sociologist Victoria Pitts theorizes that modifying the body in a subversive way, such as tattooing and piercing, becomes an act of liberation through reconstructing self identity, acting as a personalized rite of passage to the empowered self that is obtained by transgressing the regulations of the idealized female body (Pitts 72). Thus, since the body is a continually evolving entity, these identities are always in a process of becoming, with endless possibility for transformation and rewriting of the self. In the West, we have taken the practices that are used in indigenous cultures to inscribe social hierarchy and write the story of one's life on the body, and we use it as a way to self-actualize in a postmodern age where identity has become unfixed, or as Pitts describes it, an “organic system” (Pitts 27) that is constantly in flux (Pitts 73). Because the body can be used as a place of reorganizing power relations and analyzing identity, it also becomes an ideal place for a reclaiming discourse centered on empowerment.
It was Judith Butler who most famously conceptualized gender as an ongoing 'performative' process that is stylized by cultural ideals, and this idea of performance and embodiment is what lends any act on the physical body its potency in a process of reclaiming (Pitts 38). Therefore, the reclaimed body is not something that is recovered, but an entity that is produced (and can be reproduced and reformulated as needed). The pathological label tattooing has received over the years, however, undermines the social legitimacy of tattooing as a whole as well as questions the subjectivity of the individuals in question, as some people are much more easily marginalized politically, such as women and minorities (Pitts 18). As such, pathological debates can never be politically neutral and challenge women's participation in the body modification community as a legitimate cultural practice. In 1998, The Washington Post went so far as to associate body modification with elicit drugs, homelessness, self-loathing, and as a form of “ruining one's life,” implying a lack of control, self hatred, and suffering in the tattooed (Pitts 24). Such arguments rely heavily on a definition of beauty that idealizes smooth, unmarked skin--the very definitions whose tenants often lead to true acts of self-harm such as eating disorders. The pathological view of tattooing and body modification is particularly problematic for those women who use body modification as a way to reclaim and empower the body--pathology discourses directly destabilize the subjectivity and agency of these women. One writer in the anthology Chick Ink, Ang Harris, used tattooing as a subtle and personal way of reclaiming her body from her former attitude, and reflects in her story,
    It's interesting that I have transformed myself through a means which some would consider mutilation. It has helped me to reclaim myself and see beauty where I couldn't see it before. It does not define me, because there are many other attributes that describe who I am…But without discovering body art, I wonder if I ever would have discovered myself (Hudson 21).  
The women who contributed to this book, as well as some of the women I met while observing tattoo artist Jamie Schwartz, show that while theories may abound in the intellectual world, real life experiences do not always reflect the concerns of popular opinion and political agenda. Ultimately, it is an individual decision and individual process when one modifies the body--for any reason--and theoretical arguments have no bearing on the personal perspective and emotional impact of body projects, be it positive or negative.
Despite the stigma, attitudes are beginning to change as women become integrated into the tattoo community both as participants and artists (Hudson ix). While many challenges remain for both female tattoo artists and women who casually collect discreet tattoos, the level of acceptance in society as a whole is slowly increasing as the available literature on tattooing expands and educates. With the tattoo renaissance growing exponentially from the late 20th century on, understandings of the techniques, practices, safety, and psychology of being tattooed are also spreading more rapidly. This all bodes well for the female tattoo artist, who straddles the stigma of the tattooist who applies the stigmatizing alterations and the stigma of the tattooed woman who battles popular views of beauty and femininity. The famed tattoo artist Spider Webb, who could be said to be one of those old-timers normally assumed to be averse to women in the field, made a profound statement that has been coming to fruition. Webb predicted in 1979, “I suspect that women's influence in tattooing will not merely change traditional designs by adding a 'feminine' flair, but will create a radically new aesthetic” (Webb 56). With each year, more women enter the field and add their influence to the modern direction of the ancient art. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the position the tattoo community finds itself in today, and while there is still much negativity surrounding tattoo culture when viewed by the public who hold to mainstream ideals, tattooing has always been here to stay. It is now just making itself known as a legitimate art, and women are leading the way.

Works Cited:

Atkinson, Michael. Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art.Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 2003.

Hudson, Karen L. Chick Ink. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2007.

Pitts, Victoria. In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2003.

Schiffmacher, Henk. Tattoos. Los Angeles: Taschen, 2001.

Webb, Spider. Pushing Ink: The Fine Art of Tattooing. PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2002.