Many would disagree with me that tattoos, piercings and other forms of body mutilation can be incredible works of art. The very definition of art can be put plainly; an expression of self. There is the over used phrase that a person can wear their heart on their sleeve, but what if we could really show who we are externally. So many people hide behind their clothes and make-up. You may be able to see what their style is, but it could just be current trend, not who they really are. Ink and metal are simple things that can make a huge and dramatic impact to the outside world about who we are. Tastefully done a tattoo can commemorate a particular time in your life and a piercing can tell the world you’re an individual.
However, I believe it is the few who have tainted such an art form. In Ireland for instance there are reputable tattoo and piercing businesses nationwide but there are still some that can be viewed as dodgy to say the least. This is the fault of the Government itself, not the industry. So far, there is no legislation whatsoever regarding tattooing, piercing or body mutilation in Ireland. These businesses are not required to adhere to specific registration requirements, structural or operation standards, employ trained professionals and are not included in any inspection program by the Environmental Health Officers or any statutory inspectorate, according to the Health Service Executive. The EHO does follow up on reports of infection and diseases when the origin is suspected to be a tattoo parlour, but is still lobbying for proper legislation to be put in place.
This legislation is so important to implement and reinforce because health and infection are a major source for concern surrounding body modification. Complications can range from allergic reactions to the inks, metals or even the latex gloves worn by the person giving the tattoo or piercing, to more serious infectious diseases like Hepatitis B and C and even HIV. If enquiring about a tattoo you should ask to see a certificate of registration with the local council and if the business doesn’t have one, leave! It seems silly to warn about only going to a place that seems sterile and hygienic, but if everyone did this there wouldn’t be a problem to write about. The parlour should be cleaner and more sterile than you’d expect of a hospital and if you find one that works with single-use needles instead of sterilising them after use, that’s even better. Professionals will provide you with aftercare instructions too, and this is where it’s up to you. You can look after your new body art properly and love it for years, or neglect it and bad mouth the business when deep down you know it’s your own fault.
This form of art isn’t for everyone and that’s not necessarily a matter of taste, but can be biological. Migration and rejection is something that even I myself have had the displeasure of going through when it comes to piercings. I had my belly button pierced, twice. The first time is my own fault, I caught the bar in my shirt and it pulled, splitting the skin over the bar. The second time however, my body was working against me. What happens is the body sees this piece of metal as a threat and begins to heal the skin behind it instead of over it. The bar will move outwards as more skin grows behind it. I didn’t think it would happen because it had been healed for months before but sadly it was not meant to be. An expensive lesson learned but a cheap form of scar removal from the first time. Migration and rejection happens with surface piercings and once it starts there’s nothing you can do except take the piercing out before it scars. It is possible to re-pierce the same area with a different type of metal and see if your body will accept that but it’s never recommended to pierce that area more than twice. Basically, if it rejects again, give up.
Other than infection from neglect, tattoos come with other problems, fading and distortion. A pretty self explanatory problem, which can happens naturally. Tattoos will always fade; it’s just a question of when. Tattoos can last for years without fading or distorting, with proper care. But if neglected it’s likely to happen sooner. Fading occurs due to poor quality ink and exposure to bright sunlight which fades the pigments of ink. To delay the natural occurrence of fading takes proper dedication on your part. The new tattoo should be properly washed and dried everyday and non-scented lotions should be used. Vitamin E lotions are very good but only AFTER the skin has healed and use a high SPF sun screen too. And whatever you do, don’t pick scabs! You will make it bleed and the inks will run with your blood! Its minimal work but very important. Distortion is often seen as bleeding of the ink, again due to poor quality inks or homemade tattoo guns. Lines can be distorted by trauma to the skin like sudden stretching, burning or other wounds. Most traumas that cause distortion are unavoidable accidents, except one. The baby bump. There are two situations, having a tattoo on your abdomen and then getting or pregnant, or vice versa. Frankly the latter seems extremely dangerous, but it happens. These women seem to forget the bump is going to stretch your skin but won’t be there forever. Stretch marks and excess skin are going to rightly mess up that tat.
One particular case of trend over art that is known almost worldwide is that of Kimberly Vlaminck. This 18-year-old Belgian teen went to a tattoo parlour allegedly to have three small stars tattooed near her left eye. She claims to have fallen asleep in the chair and woken up with 56 stars tattooed on her face. This regretful mistake left her to claim that the tattoo artist Rouslan Tourmeniantz carried out these extra tattoos against her will and there were even allegations of hypnotism and drug induced unconsciousness. While the allegations proved to be false Tourmeniantz’s reputation was tainted to say the least. The press coverage in the beginning seemed to paint him as the villain and feed into this ridiculous stereotype that you can’t trust people with tattoos. While proved innocent in the end his name was still blackened and he lost a lot of business, through no fault of his own.
This art of ink has also caused many issues within the workplace. The majority of workplaces have established a dress code for all of their workers and are perfectly within their legal rights to do so. Tattooing and piercings are an expression of self and some believe it to be wrong to inflict such restrictions on workers. Many terminations have been the result of such rebellions. The restrictions are perfectly legal as long as they don’t discriminate against race, colour, religion, age, national origin or gender. Personally I don’t think someone’s level of professionalism should be judged by their appearance anyway and that includes tattoos and piercings. I do understand that there are some industries of work where it is necessary to cover piercings for reasons of health and safety but in general there shouldn’t be a problem. Unless a tattoo causes particular offence, but that’s not art, that’s ignorance.
Apart from tattoos and piercings, body modifications and mutilations have become extremely popular in recent years. These include: branding; sub-dermal implants; earlobe stretching; tongue splitting, tooth filing, corneal tattoos; scarification; corset piercings and pointy ears. Most are obvious to what they are and can create quite dramatic art but there is only one I have a problem with; corneal tattoos. Whoever would want to get their eyeball tattooed should have their mental health examined first. Body modification can result in infections and diseases but they are easily dealt with or easier to live with due to new medication. But your eyesight is so fragile already and we only have one pair of eyes each. Personally I can hardly put my contact lenses in without flinching, so the very idea of someone taking a needle to my eye and inserting ink that could restrict my sight and result in the loss of my eye is positively vomit inducing!
So should these issues take from the concept of body mutilation as an art form? Are tattoos and piercings and the like only ever to be associated with trouble makers or will people ever see that these issues are few and far apart. We know about the negative aspect of this industry because the positive isn’t publicised. I’ll always admire the dramatic body art people can create using nothing more than ink, metal and a little imagination. Reading the horror stories of tattoos gone wrong etc, has done nothing to defer me from getting some ink myself later on. Piercings didn’t work for me so why not a tat? And frankly, being a walking masterpiece sounds amazing.
By Pam Ryan