Sun, 19 Jan 2003

Lovers want tattoos recognized as art

Leo Wahyudi S, Contributor, Jakarta

When I was in high school, I used to temporarily tattoo my girlfriend's initials on my left hand. My mother didn't like it at all.

She would get in my face and scream: "Never get a tattoo! You are not a criminal!"

Since then I have only been able to admire the art of painting on skin.

Several months ago, I met Mamen. He was getting a small tattoo of a human skull surrounded by flames on his left arm.

"I love tattoos. Many musicians have tattoos all over their bodies and they look cool," said Mamen, who is in his early 20s.

He said he could not put the tattoo in a more visible place because "I'm afraid my Mom will find out".

His statement reminded me of my own fear of my mother.

My mother definitely was not Betty Broadbent, the tattooed American woman who became the first person to be honored by the Tattoo Hall of Fame in 1981.

If she was Broadbent -- who received a tattoo body suit from Charlie Wagner and Joe Van Hart back in 1927 -- she would surely have let me cover my whole body in ink, swirling across my shoulders, creeping up the back of my neck and crawling down my arms and legs, like the members of Motley Crue.

My mother is just one of those people, and there are a lot of them, who fail to appreciate tattoos as works of art. Her attitude is strengthened by public opinion in Indonesia, where tattoos and criminal behavior have become strongly connected in people's minds.

For 17-year-old student Icha, herself a tattoo lover, it is time the public changed their opinion.

"People with tattoos are not always criminals," said Icha, who has a tattoo on her left arm.

Young tattoo artist Boy Charles Misson -- who has tattoos scattered all over his body -- also criticized the public's misperception of tattoos.

"It is important for the public to acknowledge that we (people with tattoos) aren't criminals because we have tattoos," said Boy, who has an outdoor tattoo parlor in Kemang, South Jakarta.

Boy is just one of a handful of people who have been working to make tattoos more popular and accepted here. They have established the Java Tattoo Club, which has members from Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Semarang, Malang and, funnily enough, Bali.

The club tries to promote the art of tattoos through vivid body decorations, tattoo-design T-shirts and exhibitions (two have been held twice in 1999 and 2001 in Yogyakarta).

The popularity of tattoos has been given a big boost thank to the many celebrities and athletes, both local and foreign, who have inked their bodies.

In Jakarta, you can get a tattoo at your choice of indoor and outdoor tattoo parlors.

Ryan -- a young tattoo artist who works in Blok M, South Jakarta -- is one of dozens of tattoo artists working from outdoor studios. Other outdoor studios are scattered around Senen in Central Jakarta, and Kota in West Jakarta.

Both Ryan and Boy say their clients include businessmen, pop stars, teenagers, police detectives and prostitutes. And they both agree that they get both financial benefits and recognition from their work.

Ryan will go to Japan next month for a one-year stay thanks to an invitation from a Japanese businessman to go to that country and promote his style of tattoos. Last year, the 27-year-old spent six months in South Korea doing the same thing.

As for Boy, he and some friends are preparing to open an indoor tattoo parlor called New Skin later this month on Jl. Kemang Raya in South Jakarta.

In this modern era, people should be more open-minded about tattoos, said Icha, criticizing her parents and the teachers at her elite school in Tangerang for their lack of acceptance.

"Everyone has the right to have personal art such as a tattoo," she said.

I-box The history of tattoos

The word "tattoo" comes from the Tahitian word "tatu", meaning to mark something. Tattooing is the production of patterns on the face and body by inserting dye under the skin.

The skin is penetrated with a sharp tool. Today colored ink and an electric needle are the material and instrument of choice.

In recorded history, the earliest tattoos can be found in Egypt during the time of the construction of the great pyramids. When the Egyptians expanded their empire, the art of tattooing spread as well. The civilizations of Crete, Greece, Persia and Arabia picked up and expanded the art form. Around 2000 B.C. tattooing spread to China.

Evidence of tattooing was found in burial remains in Siberia dating from 300 B.C. and Julius Caesar reported that the natives of Britain were tattooed when he invaded the island in 54 B.C.

The purpose of tattooing has varied from its important role in the social life of those who practiced it and throughout history it has appeared in many guises: as a distinguishing mark of royalty, a symbol of religious devotion, a decoration for bravery in battle, a sexual lure, a pledge of love, a symbol of group identification, a sign of individuality, a punishment and a means of marking and identifying slaves, outcasts and convicts.

The Maoris are world famous for their tattooing. Though they do not cover as much of the body as many of the South Pacific people, the Maori developed an unusual style of tattooing.

They took a wood carving technique and applied it to tattooing. With this, they achieved a unique chiseled design that ink was then rubbed into.

After the Europeans arrived in the 1700s, they brought metal to these islands and the Maori began a more conventional style of puncture tattooing. Amazingly enough the word carving technique of tattooing can still be seen in many museums around the world, not just in drawings or photographs, but actually in the skin.

The art of tattooing then became popular and spread throughout China, India and Japan. The practice was then spread across the seas by early explorers during the 16th century to the distant continent of Europe.

Today the practice is popular with a vast cross section of the population. Within the United States tattoos can be found on individuals ranging from gang members to fashion models.

From various sources