Taiwan Tattoo - Pain, Pleasure, Art


Tattoo: Pain, Pleasure, Art

Text and Photography by Kloie Picot

Tattoos first entered western culture in 1769 when explorer Captain James Cook traveled to Tahiti and saw local tribal tattoos.   He brought the concept back to Britain.   In the early days tattoos were, as they are now, especially popular with soldiers and sailors. It is believed that Cook coined the word "tattoo" from the sound the hammer made when hitting the needle used to cut the skin in Tahitian tattooing. 


In China , historically, only a few ethnic minority groups viewed tattooing positively and used tattooing as a part of coming-of-age rituals, or because it was considered beautiful. The Han (the largest ethnic group in China), however, used tattooing as a punishment and to identify criminals.   Given the traditional penal use of a tattoo along with the ingrained Confucian belief that "Our bodies, to every hair and bit of skin, are received by us from our parents, and we must not presume to injure or wound them, this is the beginning of filial piety," it's easy to see why Chinese culture has long been vehemently against tattoos and piercing. 


In modern Taiwan the criminal stigma attached to tattoos is still widely held, but there are many who are trying to change that view. Last year at the Taiwanese Tattoo Convention in the Xinyi district of Taipei outside the New York New York department store, a crowd of local tattoo artists gathered to offer their services to anyone eager to be inked.   Many of these "local artists" were masters with large followings.   At the convention I saw amazing true art, body art, mythological gods and demons expertly inked onto the human canvass.   Tsai Jong-da, one of the organizers of the event said, "it is no longer those on the fringe who are being tattooed."   


Watching the faces of those being inked I felt as though I was witnessing a sort of masochistic pain-pleasure experience. I don't pretend to know much about tattooing except that it is a permanent reflection of one's character. It may be a statement that you want a change, something permanent to identify yourself with, or be identified by. Regardless, choosing a tattoo is serious business.   You're going to be marked forever--and it's extremely difficult and painful to try and remove if you change your mind, or pick a bad tattoo artist.  

Personally, I'm still trying to decide what to do with the olive I had inked into my flesh.




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