An aboriginal completly tattooed was brought back by Wiliam Dampier in 1691 and exposed before all the londonian society. The european society, astonished by those adornments wants to see more and more aboriginals brought by sea whom the story is invented for the spectacle to be more exiting. So giolo, an aboriginal from the philippines would have benn captured by the king mindiano and tattooed by force to be sold as a slave. In this way several aboriginals and sailors will follow pretending they have been tattooed by force just to make business out of their body in circuses and exibitions. In 1774 Cook will bring back Omai from the south seas, an aboriginal who wants to know england. The fiction of violence substantiates the value of tattoo and justify the adornments on europeans. But tattoo got once again a bad reputation: it is discribed as a physical constraint, a peverse action made by primitves; in thos times no one would imagine it can be made volountarily. So we can understand that a those times that plus the religious pression tattoo was perceived as a negative sign of constarint, violence and barbarity. To make a show out of tattoo was common untill 1930 when men earned their lives in circus because they were completly tattooed. So in the years 1930’s criminologists would link a tattoo on someone to the crime. Some scientists see in it a sadomasochistic character and even the proof of homosexuality!.
The two interesting groups so tudy from the beginnig of the XIXth century to the XXth century are sailors and criminals. The reason of the presence of tattoos on sailors is quite obvious their regular conctacts with others populations and cultures around the world make of tattoo a sign of reference. In england at the begining of the XXth century 90% of the ROYAL NAVY were tattooed; and in 1960 about 65% of the american sailors got tattooed before the end of their enlistment. Tattoo for the sailors can be seen as a ritual, distance create the need to connect with a community and this maritime tardition has spread thanx to famous tattoo artist established in ports. Sailor’s and criminal’s tattoos were made at this time without a dermograph wich means in an extremly painfull way, but the resistance to pain was an assertion of virility of men whom got tattooed. We find in sailors but also soldiers a symbolics of tattoo of the community, virility and even in the desing chosen the absence of women or the loved one. Names, initials, are represented on the body of those who can’t see their families or lovers. A way to make yours the absent persons and enable men to have a visible memory.
Those images of women are also found in prison of course. But in this situation tattoo can be explain in an other way.
We also have here a feeling of memebership to a groups sharing the same privation of freedom, but here the body mark is a way to reappropriate one’s body because one can’t do what he wants to do.The body becomes a claim to exist in spite of being prisoners. Tattoo is “diy” and must be hidden as this practice is fobidden. And as it is forbidden it becomes more important as the last space of freedom offered with basic means.
The strong symbolic dimension can only attract those who go without freedom and can only regret it. A chance to reconquer the symbolic “self” as long as a prisoner can tattoo. Dignity is gained agains the rules it’s a way for these men to keep a part of free will at least on themselves and to prove to the others their courage.
But tattoo becomes a trap when the prisoner get out of prison, a stigmata. People think “criminal” at the sight of a tattoo and so the freedom gained in prison disapear. This stigmatization reminds the infamy mark under louis XIV for exemple a M for the beggars, a V for the thieves, and a lily on the prostitutes. Finnaly the “black code” wich rules the relationships with the slaves in the colony (french colony) impose in 1685 to mark with a lily all fugitives and extras mutilations for the repeat offensers..
As we spoke about the infamy mark on the prostitutes in the past centuries in the 1930’s tattoo comes back to them more or less volountarly. the prostitutes are stigmatised and as they are close to soldiers, former criminal and sailors they make tattoo their’s. Often it’s the procurer that make them tattoo asa proff of their belonging to him. A japanese movie of the 60’s shows a young woman sold to a procurer who decides to get her tattooed; firts because his tattooer asks him to do it but mainly to make out of the woman a real prostitute what he call a “man eater” and he promise her that her tattoo will enable her to get money from anyone. The procurer then claims he has created a part of the personality of the woman and that it belong to him. (“tattoo”, yasuzo masamura, 1966).
And it’s not the only case where tattoo symbolise the appropriation of the other. In fact not only procurers but also some jalouse husband take their wife to the tattooer to write on their skin “i belong to…” as says a chicago based tattoo artist. Historicaly tattoo has a value of identity whereas claimed as membership to a community, to an individual or to oneself own body. We can wonder if nowadays the idea is the same.
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