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Tattoos: The Human Body as a Work of Art

this phenomenon when they visited Jerusalem.

32

On one of the extraordinary tattooing stencils from this period depicts

part of the Temple Mount hinting to the location of the Western Wall

along with the Hebrew word “Yerushalem”.

33

The stencil belonged to a

Coptic tattoo artist, yet the decoration and writing on it suggest that some

Jewish people also tattooed their bodies. This supposition may find its

support in the memoirs of the English tattoo artist, George Burchett, who

in the early 1890s probably opened a small tattoo stand near the Church

of the Holy Sepulchre. Burchett states that the Holy City turned into a

center for tattooing artists of all creeds and nations: Greek, Maronites,

Syrian, French, Jewish and Italian. According to him, the tattoo artists

never wanted for work, since the city was filled with tourists and pilgrims.

34

Muslim women in Eretz Israel and in the Middle East in general also

tattooed themselves. Lane, who visited Egypt in mid-19

th

century, tells us

that lower class women tattooed blue patterns on their faces (usually in

the area of the chin and forehead), the hands, their feet, and the center of

their chests. The most frequent shapes were dots, circles, and simple lines.

Tattoos played a role in defining the individual and insuring the continuity

of the social systems. Blackman states that in the 1920s, body art used colors

produced from indigo and coal. These colors have antiseptic qualities

which help prevent infections. Moreover, tattoo artists in this period, also

used herbal medicine, such as clove or white beet leaves to strengthen the

image they drew on the body and relive the swelling.

35

Tattooing traditions existed also among the Bedouins throughout

the Middle East. Tattoo culture survived hundreds of years in Muslim

communities in northern Africa. In Morocco, for instance, collections

of folk prayers, which quoted the Prophet Muhammad, proclaimed that

tattoos between the eyebrows and on the cheeks are “traditional” and

therefore legitimate. However, conservative interpretations of the Quran

and fundamentalist influences immensely reduced this phenomenon

amongst North African Muslim communities. These conservative

Muslim approaches believe that tattooing damages the believer’s spiritual

wholeness, since the tattoo prevents water from penetrating the skin

16e