Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tattoos... and Soldiers & Refugees

Please tell me what you think about tattoos... The subject came up at group last night, after one of our artists brought in two paintings of young women with tattoos--one an IV drug addict, the other a hooker. His theory--I trust I represent him accurately--is that tattoos, along with body piercings and other such practices, suggests a return to tribalism among young people in the context of a society whose systems they reject. One reader of these pages, I know, has been conducting his own informal poll about shaved heads. Are they related to the tattoo phenomenon, I wonder? I have a few ideas myself, but I'd be really interested to hear what you-all think...


Speaking of tattoos, there was a piece on CNN this morning about their growing appeal in Iraq, where they were previously forbidden. Some take it as new expression of freedom. Others, distressingly, believe that tattoos will help their relatives identify them in the event of their death and dismemberment in one of those all-too-frequent deadly bomb attacks. Faithful Islamists decry them as a desecration of the body given us by God. Meantime, according to the CNN report, the tattoo artists are doing good business.

I also watched the first half of Richard Engel's "War Zone Diary" after group last night--I admit I was too tired to watch the whole two hours, and I had forgotten to record it. But I found it to be a very moving account, precisely because it was so personal. Interspersed with mini-interviews with himself recorded on a personal hand-held camera, the piece took an up-close look at people in dire, life-threatening situations and listened without slant or judgment to their stories.

It was a harrowing experience, just to watch this footage. Aside from the gore, the burned bodies, the severed body parts--and there was no shortage of these--the reality of war was brought home in the "band of brothers" intimacy and courage of American soldiers separated from their loved ones, as well as in the pain and grief of Iraqi war victims. There were those who had lost or were forced to abandon their homes, the dispossessed and the refugees. There were those who were trapped by their circumstances in the middle of the battle. There were those who were maimed in body or in mind. There were those who had chosen to take up their own weapons to join in the fight. All people. All living in close, first-hand proximity with suffering and death, and seen through the lens of a camera that seemed to want to get beyond the news and beyond the emnities, to the very human heart of the matter.

Kudos to Richard Engel for this "diary." Like this diary of mine, in its more fortunate, sheltered way, "War Zone Diary" tries to look out on the world with an honest gaze, and to take things--in a good way--personally.

LES'S GREENS: a dream

Ellie and I are visiting my good friend Les. He shows us the greens he has been cultivating in the basement of his home with great love and care, and of which he is genuinely proud. Arugula? Perhaps. They are exotic, highly prized greens, a rarity and a special culinary treat. Les has been planting them in stages: some are young and tender, some advanced in growth. As he tells us about them with great, affectionate pride, I casually reach out and pull one of the taller ones from the ground, with the suggestion that we share it three ways between us. Les is devastated. He can't believe I would be so thoughtless and insensitive. He can't see how our friendship can ever be renewed. Ellie, too, is appalled. I realize now what a dreadful thing I did, and feel mortified by my action. Les has taken refuge under one of the shelves in this greenhouse he has created, and is too distressed to speak. I try to apologize. I beg him to accept a make-up, some act of service that will restore the good faith between us. I am still unable to reach him as the dream comes to an end.


carly said...

My proposed installation takes place on the pure surface of the moon. 365 laser light units in 365 yellow pyramids are to be placed in a coded matrix in the exact epicenter of the Giant Crater in the Sea of Galileo. Yellow is to signify the brilliance of light, which illuminates the shadows where evil hides. The pyramids are each in size to be 365 cubits by 365 cubits at the base and 365 cubits in height, topped by a laser, like the one in Las Vegas. The coded matrix of placement will remain a secret in a sealed capsule until the precise moment placement begins. Forty astronauts will then open the capsule and for forty moon days and forty moon nights arrange the "Pyramids of Light" in the proper sequence of the matrix according to the secret numbers imprinted in pure raised gold ietters on the bottom of each pyramid. The famous National Geographic photographer, Hans Biermeister, will record the entire sequence of events for my gallery in New York City and my website. The entire world will be alerted and ready to look at the moon on the prescribed nights, to number forty earth days, according to legend. At the pre-determined moment when all people on Earth are watching the Moon, the artist, myself, will trip a throw-switch from the Thomas Edison Museum, which symbolizes electricity and all the inventions for the good of mankind. And with that action, the matrix of lasers will spell out, in stunning brilliance for all on Earth to contemplate, for the subsequent forty nights, the words, "Stop, you damn fools".

"James" said...

Interesting post. I happen to have basically a shaved head and I have many tattoos plus two pierced ears.

A crazy Suburban Buddhist Monk I call myself. :)

In fact I have a full sleeve on my right arm and a large Buddha tattoo on my left arm. I do plan on filling in the left arms with ink to form a full sleeve as well.

In addition, I have a tattoo on each shoulder as well as two on either shoulder blade. As well as my Scottish family clan crest on my left calf. I will probably will in my legs too.

Being an artist I love the art of tattoos. I love to use my body as the ultimate canvas (speaking of which have you had a chance to look at my art site? I'd love to hear your thoughts. James's Art). Most of my tattoos honor my Buddhist beliefs and I choose all of them wisely. No spur of the moment ink for me!!

On another note, I wanted to add my response here to your comments on my blog about "The God Delusion" and the Carl Sagen quote you just added.

have been pleased how Buddhism has embraced science so much. The Dalai Lama seems to be very interested in the two. Very open to science influencing Buddhism. He has said that if science shows something in Buddhism to not be relevant (and I'm paraphrasing here) then Buddhism must adapt.

carly said...

Tatoos! What about tatoos WITH shaved heads?

It's a ritualistic creative act, in a pathetic joiner attempt to be rebellous. It IS tribal, body ornamentation dating way back, not a 'return' to tribalism. But it's also conformist, clannish, and the only way open to someone with no artistic skills, indeed, a step below customizing a car, or decorating a motorcycle.

As far as I know, it has never had spiritual significance, but seems to be a statement of individualism or ritual to set one above others in style, like shaving one's head. And like shaving one's head it completes " the look" in conformity with the others in the cool set. They're club members, like my ex-father-in-law, who was a member of the Yacht Club.

And all that applies to the perky teenager who has a lily on her ass.

PK said...

Hmmm, tats, well I have a few. I'm neither an addict or a hooker. I have a large one on my left leg that is tribal art, the rest are just things I wanted. I was younger, but I'd still have them done at my age now. I would never consider shaving my As far as the desecration, well, there are friends of mine, who are Baptists, who think along the same lines, that it is a desecration of the body. I'm with the rest of them, if something happens to me, at least the tats will let them know who I am:D... I watched that awhile back, on the diaries, and it was depressing to me, I could only watch so much of it. It came on again last night and I turned it off. Funny thing though, I still thought about it the rest of the night... The leaves are living things to him, you have killed one of his living things... I don't know where you are at mentally right now, be difficult for me to give any sort of thought to it... only you can... Have a pleasant evening Peter...

Mark said...

I don't think one can label something as broad as tattoos as one thing like "tribal" or "rebellious." This is all from my perspective, that of a nineteen year old contemplating tattoos himself. A lot of people get tattoos that are fairly meaningless just to look cool, which I don't necessarily agree with. I read a great article recently about the significance of tattoos in modern-day religions and how lots of young people are getting tattoos as outward signs of their inward convictions, much like James. I'd like to think that the majority of people getting tattoos are doing it for reasons like that, but I'm sure I'd be mistaken. One of the ideas that I firmly believe in is that every action is justified by its motivations. Tattoos are the same. Done for one reason, they're completely appropriate. Done for another, they can be superficial and worthless. Depends on the vantage point. I don't know. I'm still young with lots to learn.

PeterAtLarge said...

Looking forward to seeing Carly's proposed installation on the moon. Sounds like a promising project. PaL

Cynthia said...

OMG OMG Carly that was sooo funny. I loved it. I can actually see it up there ont he moon!
Tatoos - oh yeah I did that in 1969 and I hate to tell you but in 92 when I did an amazing wheat grass cleanse - the wheat grass found the tattoo and began to eat it away. Explain that?! So much of it was missing when my teens asked me to either remove the "bruise" or redo it. I opted for lazer removal not wanting a Popeye on my son's arm because of my example. Plus frankly I think the ink could be toxic....hopefully not for this generations sake (I sincerely mean that). Balding heads look good shaved to me - rather than all those wiry loose hairs running amok. Those are my thoughts.

PeterAtLarge said...

Welcome, Cynthia! Good to hear from you... PaL