Are there any weird tattoos with Chinese characters
2015: reservations about tattoos
Source: Katrin Hartig, Stefanie Oeft-Geffarth
Mourning tattoo - our skin as a landscape of emotions
conVela self-published, Halle (2016)
92 pp. - ISBN 978-3-00-052750-0
MB about reservations about tattoos
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BY KATHRIN HARTIG
To the book "Mourning Tattoo - Our Skin as a Emotional Landscape".
On 92 pages the journalist, Katrin Hartig and the photographer, Stefanie Oeft-Geffarth dealt with the phenomenon of "mourning tattoos". In addition to the traveling exhibition, a publication has been created that shows unexpected pictures and detailed interviews. It's a sensitive format. Not too big for the claim; not too small for the effect of the photos.
In addition to 13 short interviews, which are a kind of essence of the long conversations, experts have their say. Forensic biologist Dr. Mark Benecke also ask the questions that Katrin Hartig came up with when dealing with the observation:
There are still reservations about tattoos. About half of the participants in the photo project had a rather negative attitude before the loss. Where does this rejection come from? Are tattoos still stigmatized?
MB: There are two kinds of people in the world. It's pretty clear, well studied, and not just an opinion of mine - it has been shown in many experiments. Some of the people tend to be more “liberal” and open-minded and others less so. That has always been the case, and it can also be easily followed in political and social decisions. That's probably some yin and yang thing. The rejection of tattoos depends - like the experimentally measurable reaction to photos with unusual content - with the somewhat more conservative disposition of people.
The justification that this is due to the socio-economic stratification is imposed and has been refuted in research for over a hundred years. The only scientifically tenable reason to behave one way or another about tattoos is the more conservative or more liberal attitude of the people.
Grief can also turn values and attitudes upside down. Most of the respondents reported that their attitudes towards life, towards themselves, towards what is important to them, have changed. What do you think about that?
MB: It's similar with cancer patients. I wonder if this is a real change in attitudes towards values or if it is not more of a centering. It is perhaps more of a way of turning towards one's own needs. Those who were not extremely conservative before may find their way back to the more open, liberal sources of his or her personality in grief.
To what extent do tattoos have anything to do with identifying yourself?
MB: Sometimes yes. The other end of the spectrum for getting a tattoo is for fashion reasons or wanting to belong to a group. The end of the spectrum, which is significant in mourning, is the deeper meaning of a tattoo, so it's not a fashion that is determined by the environment. The personal, unique meaning crystallizes in mourners in this one tattoo. The content can be the deceased child or, by the way, very often the dog. Then the tattoo has the obvious meaning of memory. In between there are also meanings of tattoos that can change.
Tattoos are a way of successful mourning work if it suits the wearer. For others, this can also be the design of a memorial site or a ritual. Instead of ‘finding an identity’, I would perhaps rather use the term of integration, of accepting and pushing ahead. Not in the sense of integrating grief, but rather the values that the deceased person symbolized. I can symbolically tie this to myself by means of a tattoo. Of course you can do that without a tattoo.
How does the pain of getting a tattoo play a role in these tattoos of grief? Is it in the truest sense of the word a "lost" one?
MB: I tend to deal with the more "crazy" people than with the normal ones. I had a column up until last month - the last page in the tattoo magazine - and I was reaching out to people everywhere about it. When I asked about pain, people said no. For the people I deal with, the physical pain of tattooing doesn't play a conscious role at all.
Are tattoos also a means of communication?
MB: It can be. Among other things, with those who have the date there. An example: I once did one of the tattoo magazine articles about a stripper in a very tough shop in Dresden. She is safely out and about for six hours every evening - often naked. She had tattooed her child's tombstone along with the date. It goes without saying that it also carries its story to the outside world, i.e. “communicates”. I mentioned it and asked her if she wanted to talk about it. Wanted her.
In the past, dead dogs were often tattooed. The date of death was not there. It was like that in the 80s and 90s. It was noticeable that almost all of them were people who had rather bad connections to people, for example people who had once been to the home as children. When the dog died, they would have their dog tattooed. Often these were attack dogs too. Sometimes that seemed strange when you were looked at by a bulldog. But these people also liked to talk about it.
But in none of these cases it was never an active search for conversation. Based on my feeling, I would say that the communication or the resulting conversations are more likely to be accepted.
As I said, I see it more as an integration process, bringing the image of the dead closer to oneself. The knowledge, the child or the man are buried out there somewhere, but I bring the image of this person close to me. It's almost like a magical idea: This centering and binding closer to me. I can't plant the picture in my body - I don't want to eat the ashes. But I can get it on my skin. This is also very symbolic: because I can't get any closer than to my skin or into my skin.
Many mourners chose the location for the tattoo so that they could touch it. In your opinion, what role does the part of the body play where tattooing takes place?
MB: I haven't thought about that at all, but I find it absolutely understandable. The choice of body parts could also be different: in the meantime, almost all tattoo artists are very familiar with the pitfalls of body parts. Back, chest, upper arm, these are areas that are easier to tattoo because the skin is tight. Tattoo artists often have more fun filling these areas.
The choice of body parts in general may therefore often not have any profound, but rather practical reasons. Photos of successful portrait tattoos are often published and passed on and the tattoo artist then asked: "Can you do something like that for me too?" And so the body parts are also passed on, so to speak.
At the same time, I can already imagine that this subconscious component plays a role that you are addressing. Because I also know the choice of the pulse point in particular: We sometimes make nonsense and memory tattoos at tattoo fairs. And people actually get their tattoos done more often on their pulse, i.e. on their inner lower wrist. I actually noticed that. Maybe it's such a subconscious decision for all sorts of emotional things - even without grief.
How has the choice of symbols changed in recent years? What do you notice?
MB: There is a nice timeline for the so-called jewelry tattoos - the editor-in-chief of the tattoo magazine recently added it to the magazine ‘times as a small anniversary poster. You can say that there are one and a half to two year changes in motifs. That is very noticeable. As someone who is often at tattoo events, after a few years you can say with a relatively high hit rate when certain tattoos were done. And only read from the symbol.
A few years ago there was a time when the symbols were no longer borrowed from the classic area, such as Maori or sailor tattoos, but suddenly German things were added: squirrels, foxes, owls. That was unthinkable before. Not a single person in the world has had that. And then all of a sudden it happened.
In the area of emotional representation, people chose these Chinese characters in the beginning - for example in the 70s and 80s. Sometimes also something selected that was not right in terms of content. Sometimes something was tattooed, often something with “strength” or something. But nobody knew what the sign really meant anyway.
Then came the aforementioned portraits. It was there very early. That was something - to put it simply - like the second “emotional” wave after the often crude sailor tattoos and Chinese characters. And then the third, modern wave was when the scriptures came. Lettering was completely unusual in the past. The squiggle fonts came from Mexican prisons, that's what boys developed these fonts due to the lack of tattoo inks - gray and squiggly. It then came to Germany relatively quickly via the USA. Now one has such writings very often - also in the area of mourning and remembrance.
Those are the three big waves in the field of emotional tattoos that come to mind. And then of course there are lots of other symbols, similar to the symbols on the graves. Here in Cologne at the Melatenfriedhof we have, for example, a children's grave, by the way, with a huge old stone grim reaper over it, where the little boy has lots of frogs on the grave. That was something very personal. And now and then we have butterflies on the old tombstones, meaning moths, i.e. moths, as symbols of the soul rising at night.
Strictly speaking, the choice of such symbols is a mixture of integrating the dead person with a dash of magic, imagination and courage. And it can be a communication offer. The four things together are a good, successful thing. I always find that impressive when people do it consciously or unconsciously.
Many interviewees say that the tattoo should remind them - of their path, of their inner promises. Also some kind of magic?
MB: Yes, that is a completely different facet, like a knot in a handkerchief. One is the integration of what the deceased person meant, that you now carry their memories and characteristics with you, that you now have that in you that is physically no longer there with the dead other person.
And then the other facet is this: I have to take care of myself now and really think about it. Through the effects of trauma, people can have this return to themselves. It doesn't always have to do with death. All of these processes can take place without anyone having died. A typical example are the people already mentioned who have survived cancer.
For more conservative people, it is also mutit to dye their hair brightly. If you then also make a memory tattoo, that's your way of jumping over your own shadow. They open up to the other world, the outside world, which more conservative people can otherwise seem rather wild and scary. A kind of empowerment then takes place with such a tattoo, so the attitude: I want to do this now, so I'll just do it now. Gaining self-determination, perceiving and using your own resources. A tattoo originally dedicated to memory can also do this for the wearer and remind him or her that it must also be about their own life, not just about the opinion of others or the memory of the dead person.
Have tattoos ever been a question of certain age groups?
MB: There was a serious survey by one of the major polling institutes, GfK. From this survey we know that there is a clear age group. The younger ones have - still - a lot more tattoos than the older ones. Of course, this is because in the past there was hardly any access to “tattoo parlors”. And, when it comes to grief, you used to have little influence on the motifs. Thirty years ago there were tattoo artists who couldn't draw. They painted templates well and stabbed them.
The atmosphere wasn't always very sensitive either. For example, I still know a lot of old tattooists whom I like very much, but who don't feel like talking to customers - especially not about their feelings. Those days are over, and so it comes that younger and also mourners simply have more access to tattoos and therefore more tattoos overall.
What developments are there currently in the tattoo scene?
MB: There is now a whole, whole new generation of tattooists coming mainly from Eastern Europe. They have nothing in common with any rules from the West, the USA, the seafaring tradition, none of them. They can do fantastic tattoos. You think it'll blow your brain away in a moment. A year ago I thought I saw the final stage of what is technically possible with colors, abstractions, gradients, perspectives and so on. And then a Polish tattoo kid comes along and sets everything back to zero. Hammer.
This will also open up new paths for people who are looking for new ways of expressing themselves through tattoos in their grief, especially with fantastic and very artistic implementations.
Today, a tattoo artist sometimes sends you away if you don't agree or if they believe that something is mentally unclean and unclean. Somehow it all becomes friendlier and more correct, more people-oriented.
Tattoos in grief often take place after a lengthy process of searching.
MB: And that's right. There is also a disadvantage: if you get the tattoo in a phase of deep sadness, then the tattoo may remind you of this phase, which you may have long since overcome.
So I don't think it's bad when people think long enough whether they want to do that too. Because they may otherwise be improperly conditioning themselves to the emotions they had at the moment of the sting. And as a result, you will later remember the sadness rather than the beautiful.
The desire for a tattoo must definitely come from myself.
I sometimes see people, mainly married couples, who get stuck on a top in the grief that they can no longer deal with each other. They can no longer find a way to live their relationship. Everyone grieves for himself, but they don't get the grief integrated into their relationship. This happens more often with rape. Sometimes people have to be very careful to see whether their own needs also fit into the relationship. Through the trauma, everyone gets closer to themselves. Then couples sometimes reproach themselves all the time that one of them is not doing the mourning work properly, for example. So the other is forced back under the motto: Look at me as I mourn. You have to be a little careful with tattoos too.
So when I tattoo a strong symbol for my dead child on my chest, then this - let's just take a little panda - does not look at me, but when I have a shower or have otherwise moved out, the partner looks at it and in the worst case always stands between us. The other is always looked at.
If both are now in a different phase of grief, then the tattoo is, so to speak, between the two, and sometimes you stick a sticky guilty label on your partner. In this respect, you should simply be aware of your responsibility, what you are doing in the relationship and in what form you wear tattoos in such situations.
But I can well imagine that you can simply invite a tattoo artist into a group of mourners, and then you can calmly discuss the strange details. But I would take one that under no circumstances would tattoo those present, but rather promise not to do just that. He or she should simply tell you what you could tattoo, how and where, if one of those present wanted to. That would be a good thing, even for groups.
What do your tattoos mean to you?
MB: My tattoos are definitely stories too, because I remember how and where and what that was with everyone. But I think it's something flowing. It can completely change its meaning. Just as reading books, listening to music, dancing can also change its meaning. That's how I see it with tattoos. I did them in some situation for a reason.
Of course, I can often describe the geographical reason for the tattoo, so to speak, because I made it somewhere in the world, because it was there.Because I had time and was just a tattoo artist there. I don't have any memory tattoos in the form we just discussed. Time flows with me, and with it the meanings of tattoos.
Once you have decided on a tattoo, others often follow, or at least that was the case with many of the respondents. How can that be explained? Do tattoo have a kind of suction effect?
MB: The positive effect that a tattoo can develop is as powerful as it can be for other people a religious experience or a spiritual or even a nature experience. Therefore, this experience may be a very special experience, especially for people who have completely rejected tattoos beforehand or have not even looked at them beforehand. Just as a die-hard city dweller can experience that nature can have an effect on him after all.
Perhaps these people then want to repeat or expand the experience because they learn a lot about what is related to their own needs, their own perceptions. I think that's why a lot of people get tattoos again - the feeling that I want more of that. Because they experience the mourning process that it somehow makes them healer or even more functional. It's also very exciting to see that there is a lot behind this curtain that you don't really notice in everyday life.
With younger people, tattoos are often a reclamation of your own body, with grieving adults it is perhaps more of a reorganization of your own soul.
With a big thank you to Kathrin Hartig and the editors for permission to publish.
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