There is a school of thought that tattoos — much like graffiti, which in the past decade has been transformed from cult to collectible — are increasingly being embraced by the art world, particularly in areas where art and fashion meet.
Chances are that you, a family member or a friend has tattoos. Once associated with sailors, gang members, or circus performers, these markings are now a mainstream cultural force.
This school of thought believed that not only is this an art, it is one of humanity's most ancient arts... The European "discovery" of tattooing dates from Captain Cook's exploration of the Pacific in the 18th century. Cook took artists and scientists on his voyages, and on the islands in the Pacific they encountered peoples for whom it was habitual and ritualistically important to decorate the body using a bone needle to force natural dye deep into the skin.
Modern tattooing, which these days is practiced by parlours offering state-of-the-art markings, is just a more hygienic (hopefully) and technological version of this ancient method. Tattooing flourished in the inhabited Pacific islands, yet each practised a different style: Maoris combined tattooing with facial scarification, Marquesas islanders wore full-body tattoos, and Samoans preferred them on buttocks and thighs. The word for this art was "tatau".
For the first European visitors, these islands, above all Tahiti, seemed paradisiacal dreamlands of free love and unashamed physical beauty. In 1789 the crew of the Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty, seduced by the alternative society they saw among the islanders of the South Seas, mutinied against the formidable Captain Bligh. As an expression of their radical choice to stay in the Pacific and reject their Britishness, they got tattoos. Since then, tattooing has become a nautical stereotype, then the stuff of 1950s fairground subculture, and now a mainstream body art celebrated in picture books and conventions.
In the Pacific, anthropologists have associated tattoos with a fragmented conception of identity, a belief that a person is not one but many things. Putting on the shining painted skin of a warrior changes your nature.
Are people now seeking to change their natures, to become fabulous new beings? Perhaps there is something digital and post-human about it all, a new sense of self that is no longer bounded by being inside your own skin, but penetrated – as by a needle – by social media and constant internet information, so you feel part of a larger entity, that imprints itself on your body.
Which brings me to Second Life. Tattoos are probably even more prevalent in SL than in RL (I wonder if that’s because it’s somewhat less painful…) and because of the very nature of our virtual world it can definitely be classified as art. Even though it sits somewhat uncomfortably on the edge of the fashion world.
I bumped into Khurt Vhargon recently. He of V3 Tattoo among other things. Wow, he’s one sizzling hot avatar. Oh wait I digress *cheesy grin*. So I asked him how he got into creating tattoos for the SL market.
He said “It was some time back now. I wandered into a tattoo store and I saw a pic of a guy, typical vendor shot and I thought f@#k! That dudes got this whole SL thing figured out, his avi looks TONS better than mine. I gotta get to where I look like that. So seems like since that day a tattoo has been in my mind as a part of what a "good" avi needs to have. Then I started looking for tattoos that have some kind of meaning. I mean this was back in the day of Addiction and all those guys they were all full body tribal things yada yada, they looked cool but what did they mean? It’s not like those dudes all belonged to the same tribe. Anyways my first tattoos, I cringe looking at them now but they all had a "message" for the most part. I mean I used some tribal stuff, it was pretty limited back then and you have to play to the market but they all had some message in them. I used a LOT of Latin.”
And so began the career of a SL tattoo artist.
Fashion is all about self-expression; what you wear can say a lot about who you are and who you want to be. So it's only natural that the fashion-obsessed seem to have a thing for tattoos, too. Getting inked is a way to share your passions, and if style is one of them, there is no cooler way to represent what you love.
Like fashion, tattoos come in all shapes and sizes – and everyone's ink is beautiful in its own unique way. Have a look at some of these tattoos and you may just convince yourself that it is time to get some new ink.