Tattoos, taboo or art? You decide.

Tattoos have been popularised by the youths of today, most consider it form of artistic expression and a contemporary form of collecting. The art of tattooing and tattoos can be considered arche, as it back dates to ancient times. However, tattoos have been stigmatised for centuries, often due to its westernised appropriation for branding slaves and criminals. Within various American and Russian prisons, prisoners would make use of tattoos to signify their status, particular affiliation and identity (Delvoye 2015:[sp]). If we look closer to home The Numbers gang, makes use of various motifs and symbols, firstly, in an attempt to reject societal norms and secondly, as indictors of rank and status within the gang (Kaviani 2018:[sp]). Indication of identity and status are at the root of tattoos history, culture and practice. In the Pacific Islands (Polynesia, New Zealand ect.) and Asia, tattoos are used to identify clan affiliation, this is still a popular practice today as a means identifying with one’s heritage and tradition (Delvoye 2015:[sp]). The common thread that these tattoos share is their unique story telling ability. Each marking, symbol and character that has been permanently etched into the skin is a representation of the wearers identity within a figurative space.


What defines art? If all art is subjective, then couldn’t anything be considered art? Often art is categorized by its intention and purpose, which for many creators is to evoke an emotional response or to make commentary on a particular social, political or environmental issue, all in the hopes of altering the viewers perception. If this is the case, what does this mean for tattoos? Tattoos have been a long and well debated topic for a multitude of reasons, even amongst those in the art world. Where do these permanent wearable etchings fit into the mold that is fine art?


What defines art? According to numerus gallerists, museum curators and contemporary artists, if one intends for their work to be considered art, then it can automatically assume that label. This is a simple and longstanding rule within the contemporary art world, popularised by the found object as an artwork (Artdaily 2019:[sp]). Therefore, if a tattoo is designed by the artist or with the inclusion of the intended wear, the intention of the tattoo is what determines its definition. If your tattoo makes a statement, be it, a visual memento, a badge of honour or a means to stand out, you are now the owner and collector of fine art (Artdaily 2019:[sp]). Furthermore, in contemporary modern art the use of the body as a medium and in performance has now been a popularised and favoured form of artistic expression. The body art movement categorises the use of the body as a primary medium with in performance lead art making that often challenges the bodies physical limits (Delvoye 2015:[sp]).


So are tattoos art or are they taboo? You decide.



Artdaily, 2019. Can tattooing really be classified as art?

Delvoye, W. 2015. Is tattooing an art?

Kaviani, F. 2018 Portraits of South Africas bloodiest prison gang the number.

April 4, 2022