There is nothing quite as divisive as a tattoo; permanent, deliberate, and more-often-than-not painful – these skin-deep etchings signal more than a fashion statement.
It was a sunny Sunday and we weren’t sure where to go when we arrived at Sydney Olympic Park in search of the annual Australian Tattoo and Body Art Exhibition. Homebush is huge. Eventually we fell into step behind a lady sporting several facial piercings and a t-shirt that commanded “Shut Up and Skate”. Feeling rather like an anthropologist, travelling through the deep Amazon, I recognised her as part of the tattoo and body art tribe and trusted her sense of direction in this unfamiliar place. I wasn’t disappointed.
Underneath the cavernous roof of the Howie Complex stretched stall after stall dedicated to the practice of tattoo and body modification. Tattoo artists competed against one another, using volunteers as their canvases. Row after row of stalls were plastered with images past tattoos, current designs, the latest tattoo supplies and technology. New techniques were on display next to old techniques, ink colours and mixtures were created and sold. In every stall someone was marking themselves out with their tattoo. It was like another world.
Coming from a small, conservative town, tattoos in my mind have always been a way to stand out. When you look at the bigger picture, though, tattoos have historically been about being within.
Cultures all over the world have used the tattoo to signify the tribe, from Polynesian cultures to Celtic knots and African tribal scarring. My Tribe contributor Mundial has uploaded some strong images of English gang tattoos and contributor Lisa11 has tracked someone’s process of deciding to get a celtic tattoo. But tattoos don’t only mark out cultural tribes and clear affiliations; they can also be used to acknowledge the accidental tribes in which we find ourselves. JB Rowley found this with the heart-warming story of the Flowerdale Tattoo – a story of different people who recognised their momentous shared experience of the Black Saturday fires, and marked their skin with it. Go to this tag link see all works about Tattoos submitted to my tribe.
We are part of many different tribes – family, colleagues, teammates, and fellow citizens to name a few. People also get tattoos for many different reasons – making a fashion statement, commemoration, or personal reasons. But when we find ourselves willing to tattoo our tribal membership right into our skin, it drives home just how important the tribe is to us all.