The word “tattoo” was first introduced into Europe in the 1770s by Captain James Cook in his journal that described the Tahitian natives:
Both sexes paint their bodies, Tattow as it is called in their language, this is done by inlaying the colour of black under their skins in such a manner as to be indelible. -Cook, July 1769.
Where is this Going?: Last Friday, I went to the famous Cow Palace to check out the Tattoo Expo. Although I’m still considered a “virgin” in the Tattoo World, I find tattoos fascinating and I wanted to learn more about this fashionable form of art. I thought that the best way to experience and learn about this type of body decoration was to go to the Expo and to see first hand how one goes about getting a tattoo as well as how the tattooists work with this medium. I originally wanted to dive right into discussing my experience at the Expo, but after talking to people about my experience, I realized that a lot of people don't know how historical and cultural the art of tattooing has been worldwide. I decided that I would try to inform people of its long history and then I'll share the pictures and a few things I learned from the Expo. I will only focus on the highlights and attempt to make it as brief as possible, but you can skip the history and go to the Tattoo Expo section if you like.
Cliff Notes Version of the History: Before tattooing even began, body painting was considered the earliest form of body art. Popular pigments of the Paleolithic time were: red (commonly representing blood, vitality, mortality, and fertility); white (often associated with rituals, mourning, purification, and the supernatural); and black (typically representing impurity and evil). Depictions of such body paintings can be found on cave paintings illustrating hunters, men, women, and shamans. Different body painting patterns, geometrical shapes, and colors often represented ceremonies, rituals, tribes, gender, and shamanic experiences. With time, tattooing became the new fad.
Body Painting vs Tattooing:
Body painting is temporary and is, therefore, often used for ceremonies and rituals.
Tattooing is permanent. Tattoos would represent one’s age, rank and lineage, expeditions, initiations, rights entitled, unusual personal events, and one's identity between communities and as individuals. Tattoos were also associated with religion, shamanism, healing, protection, and good luck.
Different cultures and tribes have used, and continue to use, different tattooing techniques. Most tribal cultures would use instruments consisting of comb-shaped needles made of bone or even sharp, pointed teeth. These tools would then be dipped into a concoction of soot, charcoal, or other pigments mixed with oils such as walnut or pine. The tattooists would then drive the instrument into the skin, often using other tools as a mallet in order to puncture holes through the skin. Some cultures and tribes, such as the Oceanic tribes, used a needle and thread as a tool. After coating the needle with soot and oil, the needle would be threaded through the skin while following a desired pattern.
Tracing the Tattoo Epidemic from the Stone Age to Modern Times:
Before the Stone Age, carved human figurines covered with tattoos were dated back to 6,000 B.C. Two-thousand years later, figurines with facial and body markings, which represented tattoos, were found in an Egyptian tomb. Tattoos for Egyptians were reserved for women, specifically prostitutes, dancers, and singers. Men with tattoos in Egypt represented Libyan or Nubian prisoners.
By 2,000 B.C., tattooing spread from the Middle East to the Pacific Islands. There are two theories about how this spread, but I’ll skip that because I’m trying to make this brief –if you want to know, post a comment and I’ll let you know.
Japan, specifically Osaka, had many tattoo revolutions starting from the 5th Century B.C. Beginning as decorative and for religious purposes, the practice of tattooing eventually died and didn’t resurface again until the 13th Century B.C. At this point, tattoos were only intended to mark criminals and the “socially-undesirable.” Japan went through many phases and different types of tattooing styles that greatly influenced the types of Western tattoos existing today.
There has been a lot of controversy among the art-know-it-alls who argue over whether or not tattoos are considered “art.” Some people argue that the true tribal and spiritual connections have been lost, because the original intent from the past has become commercialized and even “trashy” and “overly erotic.” Others disagree and believe that people are passionate and serious about the types of tattoos they receive. I think, ultimately, it depends on the person who receives the tattoo and the person who is criticizing the tattoo. It is art no matter what you get.
1. the “I only get sentimental and meaningful tattoos” group
2. the “I just get souvenirs and whatever” group
I respect both groups because I see the beauty, passion, and appreciation that each group has about their tattoos and about creating those tattoos for others. Each tattoo is unique and it tells you a little about the person based on their interests, beliefs, and artistic appreciations.
Joel enjoys tattooing Japanese and Asian styled pieces.
Rush prefers tattooing the Japanese and Asian themed pieces.
Jason does piercings, which was also offered at the Expo.
One of Jason's tattoos is about how people are constantly evolving and changing.
Kaysea showed me her rocking tattoos and educated me on how different areas of the tongue hurt more than others when getting certain piercings.
Melissa tattooing Paul a memorial piece dedicated to his
friends he had served with while in the military.
Before and after pictures of wound treatment.
You can even use it for veterinary care too!
Thank you: All the tattooists and apprentices I spoke with were very kind, resourceful, and talented. Thank you all for giving me a moment of your time to talk with me, answer my questions, and to allow me to take pictures!!! Thanks again!!!!!
For More Information: If you have any questions about the tattooing history or would like me to go into more depth about something, post me a comment! I enjoyed learning about tattoos and tattooing and would love to elaborate more about the subject! I tried to keep everything brief because I was concerned mostly about boring people.
Gelder, K. (2007). Subcultures: Cultural histories and social practice. New York: Routledge.
Hambly, W. D. (1925). The history of tattooing and its significance. London: H. F. G. Witherby.
Sanders, C. (1989). Customizing the body: The art and culture of tattooing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Thevoz, M. (1984). The illusions of reality: The painted body. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
Virel, A. (1979). Decorated man: The human body as art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.