Tattoos: The Human Body as a Work of Art
this phenomenon when they visited Jerusalem.
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”.
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.
Muslim women in Eretz Israel and in the Middle East in general also
tattooed themselves. Lane, who visited Egypt in mid-19
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.
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