Tattoos Discussion

Tattoos and Their Cultural Significance

Tattoos have been in existence for centuries though their origin has not been validated to date. Through time, the tattoos have come to be used by various organizations of people for varied reasons, most of which have had a focal point on expressing values upheld by individuals (Blackburn and Carolyn).

Symbolism and Personal Expression

For instance, some human beings tattoo their bodies as a symbol of status, different do it because of personal adornment and self-expression, and most importantly, to present a certain belief in the culture. Since the commencement of time, the art of tattooing was considered to hold significant cultural values and character beliefs. However, in recent years, the art of tattooing has been related with rebellion and moral decay as most of the people tattooing their bodies have been known to belong to different criminal organizations and only use the tattoos as membership marks (Blackburn and Carolyn).

The exhibit presents an analysis of the various artworks from different artists and cultures and how tattoo was perceived and how it is being considered at present. By focusing on the different premiums placed on tattoos by different communities, the paper seeks to examine how the values relate to social life and culture. Thus, tattoos can be considered to contribute positively to the value of social setting implying that communities and individuals have the mandate to ensure the tattoos are utilized for proper purposes so as to preserve social beliefs and personal adornment.

Tattoo and Power

Mark and Carolyn Blackburn

Maori men's puhoro


Oil on canvas

The artwork is adopted from the Maori Moko in New Zealand demonstrating three Maori men with different tattoo patterns that have different meanings. Mark and Carolyn Blackburn present the drawing which focuses on demonstrating the value of the tattoos regarding power and social status of the different Maori people traditionally and even currently (Blackburn and Carolyn). The man on the right is seen to have a koru tattoo that indicated him to belong to the low class in the community. On the other hand, the man in the middle has a tattoo on his forehead indicating that he held a high rank in the society and belonged to the upper class. Since Maori people valued the tattoos on the face, only the prominent individuals were tattooed on the forehead with the particular pattern. Looking at the drawing, it is apparent that the artist proposed for preservation of tattoo culture as a symbol of power and stability. The artwork is intended for the leaders who are charged with the mandate of protecting the people and therefore need symbols of power to gain respect. Besides, the artist offers the audience with the three individuals in the same drawing so as to allow them to compare and contrast the different elements of the tattoos. As much as the artist does not propose for social stratification, the artwork presents an example of a socially stratified community separated by the tattoos. The idea of power presented in this drawing can be related to the tattoo and culture seen in the Maori woman image as both of them show that the tattoos are symbols of power.

Tattoo and Culture

Arthur James Iles

Maori Woman



The picture presents a cultural ornamentation within the Maori people depicting a variety of decorations applied to the woman in the picture (James). The Maori culture allowed for tattooing of the women although on specific occasions and places on her body. Looking at the picture it can be noted that the woman is tattooed on her lower jaw which indicated a rite of passage for most women. Besides, the feathers in her hair symbolizes that the woman is of high rank and therefore the indigenous cultural differences are preserved (James). The photograph is a presentation by Arthur James Iles who is a New Zealand photographer. Having been married to a tattooed Maori woman, he became drawn to taking photographs partly for aesthetic purposes and also for preservation of the Maori culture that was likely to be washed away by civilization. It can be noted that the artist addresses the communities that value initiation and rites of passage as elements of culture. The presentation by the artist combines the traditional Maori woman and the traditions associated with tattooing among the Maori.

Tattoo and Beauty

Susanna Kumschick

Kimberly Frost



Susanna Kumschick, a Swiss anthropologist, presents an image in which the woman is lying naked with part of her back tattooed (Macdonald). Susanna focuses her anthropologist duties on examining tattoos which she considers to be works of art. The image demonstrates the beauty that is associated with tattooing as it indicates a fine pattern of ink on the skin that can be perceived as a form of a canvas. The artwork contributed to the inclusion of anthropology in art and design which later came to be appreciated and included in the museums (Macdonald). With the ever-growing focus on aesthetics and human beauty, the artist addresses the teenagers as the audience by presenting them with an image that can represent the beauty and value of nature combined with art. Also, the artwork contributes to the theme of social life by appealing to the significance of beauty of the skin and how it can be enhanced through tattoos. Having been published in 2011, the artwork demonstrates the appreciation of nature within the social setting and it can thus be related to the social status that is usually associated with beauty.

Tattoo and Religion


Pou tokomanawa


Wood, paua shell

The wooden sculpture is sourced from the Maori community which is considered to the central pole in the Maori ancestral house popularly known as tupuna (Pou Tokomanawa (Carved Centre Post)). The facial tattoo, coupled with the religious representation as a center post, symbolizes the tradition and the religious element in the Maori tattooing. Curved by the Maori people from the 1950s, the image focuses on demonstrating that tattoos in New Zealand were and are sacred and therefore making it necessary to preserve them as they contribute to continued culture transmission and identity (Pou Tokomanawa (Carved Centre Post)). By focusing on facial tattooing, the artist seeks to gain an audience from the religious cultures and how they value their symbols of religion and the focus on preservation of the same.

Tattoo and Crime

Michael Newton

Invisible Empire



Tattoos have come to be used by different criminal organizations as means of identification and symbols of supremacy. The image presents a tattoo that was found among the Ku Klux Klan and was meant for the Knights and regarded as the Invisible Empire. The artist presents an outside view with Egyptian overtones to signify the social representation of a Knight among the Ku Klux Klan (Jenkins 303). Although the group later came to be considered a criminal organization, it was apparent that the clan was started as a religious organization according to Egyptian mythology (Jenkins 304). Michael Newton, the artist, presents the artwork symbolically to demonstrate the wrongful use of the tattoos and how good can be turned to evil with time and the right tools in possession by the wrong people. Since the organization was united under "Ra", the god of the sun as indicated under Egyptian mythology, it was possible to lure more people into the organization, and later they changed to a criminal organization as resources became scarce.


Conclusively, observing the different artworks discussed, it can be established that the view that tattoos contribute to social integration is strengthened. As a matter of fact, under the social setting, tattoos have been used by individuals and communities besides the various organizations as symbols of power or for aesthetic value. Therefore, preserving the quality and the authenticity of the tattoos will contribute to culture preservation and prevention of criminal groups from imitating the valuable culture.

Works Cited

Pou Tokomanawa (Carved Centre Post) - Unknown - Google Arts & Culture. Google Cultural Institute, 2017, https:\/\/\/culturalinstitute\/beta\/u\/0\/asset\/KgH27kWvje4ySQ.

Blackburn, Mark, and Carolyn Blackburn. "Skin Stories. Role Of Tattoo | PBS". Pbs.Org, 2017, http:\/\/\/skinstories\/culture\/role2.html#uhi.

James, Arthur. "Maori Woman, Rotorua, New Zealand - Arthur James Iles - Google Arts & Culture". Google Cultural Institute, 2017, https:\/\/\/culturalinstitute\/beta\/u\/0\/asset\/maori-woman-rotorua-new-zealand\/4gFpE6vgjY5GOQ.

Jenkins, William D. "The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida." The Journal of American History 90.1 (2003): 303-304.

Macdonald, Fiona. "Tattoos: 150 Years Of Body Art". Bbc.Com, 2017, http:\/\/\/culture\/story\/20150313-high-societys-hidden-tattoos.

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