Background Image
Table of Contents Table of Contents
Next Page  271 / 292 Previous Page
Show Menu
Next Page 271 / 292 Previous Page
Page Background

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