Tattoos: The Human Body as a Work of Art
of prejudices against tattooing.
The phenomenonof convicts tattooing their body continues to this very
day. The world of crime uses tattoos as an inseparable part of its symbols.
The language of tattoos and its signs separates the criminal from the social
order. The tattooed body of the prisoner indicates his status in the world of
crime, while also embodying a subversion of the established system and the
rule of the law.
Russia’s communist revolution led to the incarceration of
hundreds of thousands of political prisoners and criminals in labor camps.
The latter differentiated themselves also through the symbolic language
of tattoos, which contained the encoded information and secret symbolic
syntax of the world of crime. The language of tattoos remained ubiquitous
in the underworld even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Israeli
prisons, convicts who migrated from CIS countries, continue to tattoo
their body in accordance with that very code. In this closed hierarchical
system, there are those who determine who will receive a mark of respect
and who a sign of shame, and in certain cases even who will be forced to
be tattooed. Research conducted at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
states that “symbolically, we may say that the prisoner dissolves into the
symbolic world that is tattooed on his body.”
The Body as a ‘Locus’ for Defining
the Social and Private Self
Contemporary sociologic research is again turning its attention once
again to the body. Ever since the 1970s, cultural and political approaches
regarding the body have multiplied. Weiss states that the exploration of
the body as a social phenomenon has undergone some changes, which
may be located on a sequence moving from the physical body, to the social
body, and to the political body.
Anthropologist, Mary Douglas, who
coined the term “the social body”, claims that the human body functions as
a symbol through which we understand society, nature, and culture.
organs of the body receive social significations, which turn the body into
a ‘locus’ in which the social and private self is defined. The body becomes