Body Decoration and Tattooing Essay

Body Decoration and Tattooing

            There are still several practices and traditions around the world that have still survived and flourished throughout time. Some of them can be traced back thousands of years ago; however, they are not anymore practiced and performed. A number of changes have already transpired with regards to those customs, practices and traditions because of the holistic development of civilization and the emergence of modernization and technology, as well as the rapid growth of globalization. One of those traditions that still exist nowadays is the practice of body decoration and tattooing, customs that would be evaluated and discussed in relation to their historical and cultural significance during the Rococo era.

Historical and Cultural Accounts: Body Decoration and Tattooing

            Body adornment can be traced back from approximately 3000 years ago. Evidences have been found at the archeological sites of Africa wherein they revealed forms of body modification and decoration such as flesh that were permanently marked with a knife or needle and earlobes and necks that have been elongated. In the Western world, body decorations are viewed as exotic distortions which possessed numerous functions in various cultures; it is one of the practices among others that fascinated the Westerners (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009).

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            Body adornment and modification can be of any form and the most common kind is through clothing. Nevertheless, there are other forms which definitely utilize the body in order to express and to achieve beautification of one’s self or to conform on one’s heritage. Different cultures take hold of different views and beliefs regarding the body as “a ground on which all cultures inscribe significant meaning” (qtd. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009). Body decoration is linked and related to the social matrix of those periods—philosophical, economic, social, religious, as well as personal. Any form of adornment of the body is a bearer of cultural identity, religious and cultural traditions and status in society.

In Africa and Egypt, body decoration is done through applying paints or pigments. It dates back at around 4000 B.C. when people in Sudan used ocher—a red or yellow earth which contains iron ore—as cosmetic. Other forms include putting jewelries, piercing and different kinds of accessories (Scribner, 2002). However, among those kinds, tattooing is the most renowned due to its styles and techniques used which can still be hauled from its history.

            The term “tattoo” is said to have originated in two derivations namely from the Polynesian word “ta” which means “striking something” and from the Tahitian word “tatau” which signifies “to mark something.” Its history has begun more than 5000 years ago and its diversity reflects the people who wear it (Designboom, 2009) especially the culture and tradition they are in.

Tattooing has been widely performed and practiced in countless cultures in the ancient realm. Conformity with it is indeed associated with a high level of artistic endeavor. It is similar to other body decorations because it serves as a nexus to the sensual, emotional and erotic facets of the psyche (Vanishing Tattoo.com, 2008), as well as the social and cultural aspects in society.

In some cultures, tattoos are conventionally correlated with magic. A person desires to be tattooed in order for him to be identified with the spirit of the animal (Vanishingtattoo.com, Historical Overview, 2008). It also reflects the rituals and social importance around the world. Numerous accounts in the history imply and divulge the several and diverse functions of tattoo and tattooing such as rites of passage, symbol of status, religious and spiritual symbol of devotion, mark of bravery, sexual attraction, mode of punishment, amulets, signs of fertility and mark of protection (Vanishingtattoo.com, Tattoo Culture, 2008).

            Body adornments mirror and play vital roles in society. They reflect the historical accounts of body art in older civilizations (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009), which has later on spread to the other parts of the world and influenced other cultures and society in decorating the body; however, their functions in the modern world have changed. One of the illustrations of body decoration is depicted by the Burmese women who customarily and traditionally put on and wear brass rings to elongate their necks. For them and for their tradition, the longer neck a woman has, the wiser and the more beautiful she is (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009).

            Other people beautify and adorn their body in the form of piercing, tattooing, branding and scarification. They decorate their body in order to articulate their identity, their group, their culture and their gender. In Pacific cultures, tattooing holds enormous historic significance. Polynesian tattooing is believed to be the most intricate, elaborate and skillful tattooing in the ancient world. Polynesian people consider that a person’s mana—spiritual power and life force—is delineated through tattoo (Designboom.com, 2009).

On the other hand, in Samoa, the practice of tattooing illustrates rank and title. The chiefs, their assistants and descending families in chronological birth order are being tattooed as early as puberty. The mark itself is commemorated for their endurance, dedication and commitment to cultural traditions. In contrast, Hawaiian inhabitants also had traditional tattoo practice known as “kakau.” It has several purposes which are not just confined to ornamentation and distinction. Tattoos, for them, serve as protection to their health and symbol of spiritual well-being. Both men and women are tattooed in such a way that men have intricate patterns on their arms, legs, torso and face while women, in general, are tattooed on the hands, fingers and wrists, sometimes, on their tongues too (Designboom.com, 2009).

            Because tattooing and other body adornments have survived in the course of history, practices and traditions with regards to them have changed over time. Beliefs, cultural and social significance and functions have altered especially during the emergence and birth of modernism.

Evolution of Tattooing in Modern Times: Tools and Styles

            Variety of methods and processes has been developed across cultures. In North and South America, several Indian tribes habitually tattooed the torso or face by simple pricking. Other tribes such as in California, tattooing is done in the form of introducing colors to scratches. Tribes of Arctic and Subarctic, utilize needles wherein pigments are pricked in punctures through thread. Moreover, Maori people of New Zealand have made use and applied their wood carving techniques (Kromarik, 2003).

            Traditional tattooing employs tools which are consisted of a comb with needles carved and shaped from bone or tortoise shell, wooden stick used for tapping and pigments for coloration. The methods are done through dipping the needles into a dye made from the soot of burnt candle blended with oil or water, placing the needle on the skin and handle is tapped with a wooden stick, causing the comb to puncture the skin, and inserting the pigment (Tahiti Tatou, 2007).

            Because of the advent of technology and modernism, the tools and methods practiced and performed in tattooing have changed abruptly, even the concept of “tattoo” have metamorphosed. Nowadays, tattooing and tattoo have already enticed people from all walks of life in order to express themselves and their identity. It is mostly a form of self-expression and articulation of beauty.

            On the other hand, traditional tattooing is still practiced today such as the use of sharpened stick while inserting color on the skin; however, modernism gives way to the new methods and tools in tattooing. These days, tattoos are now applied using small electric equipment. It operates on methods and principles akin to a sewing machine. One to fourteen needles are fastened and attached together at the end of a needle bar. The other end of the needle bar is linked to the tattoo machine (Marcer, 2009). The process of tattooing today is already done by the machine assisted by the human hands. The procedure is done when the “needle bar moves up and down through a tube” (qtd. Marcer, 2009). It has two functions which include guiding the needle ensuring that it progresses in a controlled and consistent approach, and providing a handle for the artist to grasp the machine. The needle will then protrude from the tube by a few millimeters in order to guarantee that it does not penetrate the skin too deeply (Marcer, 2009).

            Traditional tattoos symbolize a variety of animals, abstract and tribal representations, intricate geometric patterns, symbolic paths, labyrinth designs, human figures, and religious manifestations. These designs are still employed today; however, the tribal designs are more popular. Furthermore, the styles have varied in the utilization of greater number of tattoo ink colors.

Tattooing in the Rococo Era: Its Social and Political Significance

            Rococo is characterized as the movement in the art during the 18th century in France. It emerged right after the Baroque period. During this time, new ideas and notions are introduced, thus Rococo art evolves to be the visual representation of the optimism that people have experienced and felt in respond to that. Its style is exemplified by pastel colors, fanciful figures, delicate curving forms, and a lighthearted mood. Details are being paid attention by artists and forms are defined in accordance to dynamic and lively compositions, frailty of colors, and atmospheric effects (Huntfor.com, 2007).

            When the terms “rococo” and “tattoo” are linked and bring together, it will exhibit a wide range of ideas because decoration and inscription are two concepts that reflect both them. Rococo, being the period of ornamental and decorative arts, demonstrates a broad application on tattooing practice mainly because of several reasons. First is the utilization of curving forms and figures as well as the use of vibrant compositions and delicate colors. Rococo period portrays that feature. On the other hand, the style in tattooing expresses the same quality. Second is the concept of “natural.” Both Rococo period and tattoo and tattooing reveal the use of nature as subject matter and articulating it in a “natural form.” Third, it is the period or movement that depicts the life of aristocracy; hence, tattooing during this time is confined to high class consumptions. Tattooing and tattoos then are forms of status symbol–a mark of the ruling class. Subject matters and themes may vary from mythology, fantasy, everyday life, romance and historical or religious matter.

            Evidence with regards to the aforementioned matter is fulfilled when Captain Cook returned from his journey in Polynesia. Tattooing then evolved as a custom in the British navy. However, in the year 1862, the Prince of Wales—later on becomes King Edward VII—obtained his first Jerusalem cross tattoo on his arm. It is then the beginning of tattoo vogue and fashion among the aristocrats. In 1882, his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York, have also been tattooed (Designboom.com, 2009).

Analysis and Conclusion

            The existence of body decoration can be drawn and outlined thousands of years ago. It is the manner of ornamenting the body with jewelries, accessories and clothing as well as the modification of the body itself by putting marks and punctures, which is called tattoo. Body adornment and tattoo possess a variety of historical, cultural and social significance depending on the culture that practices and performs the tradition. Most of the time, tattoos and body decorations are forms of status symbol and marks of rank, protection, fertility, magic, religious devotion and cultural commitment.

            Performing the tattooing is associated with rituals in some cultures of the world. Obtaining a tattoo is in itself a sign of beauty, a form of self-expression and a representation of power and authority. Because of such acts, tattooing has become one of the oldest forms of art. Nowadays, it belongs under body art, which means, utilizing and decorating the body to convey a message, to articulate one’s self and to conform to the modern culture. As such, it gives an implication that the “body” also holds and demonstrates purpose in culture and society. It thus becomes a medium of expression.

References

Designboom.com. (2009). A Brief History of Tattoos. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.designboom.com/history/tattoo_history.html.

Huntfor.com. (2007). Rococo. Museum Quality. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.huntfor.com/arthistory/c17th-mid19th/rococo.htm.

Kromarik, K. (2003). History of Tattooing: Early Tattooing Methods. Michigan State University. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from

https://www.msu.edu/~krcmari1/individual/history.html.

Marcer, M. (2009). The Tattooing Process. Skin Tattoo Industry. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.skintattoo.co.za/i_tattooing.html.

Scribner, C. (2002). Body Adornment and Clothing. Novel Guide.com. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.novelguide.com/a/discover/aes_01/aes_01_00053.html.

Tahiti Tatou. (2007). The Revival of Polynesian Lost Art. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.tahititatou.com/history.html.

The University of North Carolina at North Chapel Hills. (2009). Body Art: A Close Look at Motivations and Experiences. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.unc.edu/courses/engl29/may1_00/ts/history.html.

Vanishingtatoo.com. (2008). Historical Overview. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/tattoo_museum/historical_overview.html.

Vanishingtatoo.com. (2008). Tattoo Culture. Retrieved April 01, 2009, from http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/tattoos_culture.htm.