It suggests that tattoos pretty much began as a female thing in ancient Egypt. Women had constellation-like tattoos on their stomachs as protection from evil. The pattern would expand with their bellies during pregnancy, encircling the unborn child, keeping it safe. I love that idea. That article created an image that has stayed with me.
Not so much that I would ever let anyone imprint a constellation on my person with a needle and ink though.
Historical tattoos can be seen in the Wellcome Collection. Yes, actual pieces of human skin that bear drawings. Not photos of the tattoos, the tattoos. Diembodied.
The museum entry about them explains:
The tattooed skin was purchased by one of Henry Wellcome’s collecting agents, Captain Johnston-Saint, in June 1929 from Dr Villette, a Parisian surgeon. Villette worked in military hospitals and collected and preserved hundreds of samples from the autopsies of French soldiers. In the late 1800s, tattoos were often seen as markers of criminal tendencies, or ‘primitiveness’. Medical men tried to interpret common images and symbols. Tattoos were also used as a tool for identification, a practice that continues today.
|What do you think we can surmise about a soldier who chose |
to have a sailor and a flower tattooed on his bicep?
What Dr Villette did bothers me.
Surely, these soldiers chose tattoos that represented something of significance to them, something that formed part of their sense of self, something that became integral to their identity. Didn't they?
Then, after they died, Dr Villette saw fit to cut those images from their bodies and send his patients off to the afterlife with patches of exposed flesh where their tattoos should have been. Stripped of identity.
Or am I being over-sensitive?
Are tattoos just permanent jewellery?
Back at letter S, I mentioned that Michael C Hall (the actor who plays Dexter) has a tattoo. Long story short, I was sitting in the front row at a recent performance of Lazarus (in which he stars as the aged Man Who Fell To Earth) and Michael C had bare feet for much of the production.
The play is suitably mind-bendingly-David-Bowie-esque. With fab songs. But I found myself fixated on Michael C's foot. More specifically, on the tattoo on Michael C's instep. It's sort of like an Egyptian eye and a pyramid.
I even did a crappy drawing of it in the notebook I carry everywhere in case I run into a celebrity with a tattoo I need to draw.
What is that thing?
At the time, unravelling the mystery of the symbolism of Michael C's Egyptian-looking sun and pyramid tattoo didn't detract from the enigmatic show, it seemed a sort of bonus conundrum.
But now it's bugging the shit out of me.
What IS that thing?
And why would Michael C Hall have it tattooed on his foot?
During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.
My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.