Friday, 5 July 2013

Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo

From early circus women and front ladies of rock like Janis Joplin, to contemporary female tattoo artists such as Kat von D, the art of inking the skin and making a statement on the body has been in vogue since the late 1850s.

No longer just a rebel emblem or 'tramp stamp' as they were once labeled, tattooing is now a well respected art form, with various different styles from tribal, celtic and oriental, to biomechanical (machinery intertwined with human flesh) and arm sleeves - tattoo visionaries have even decorated their entire bodies in ink, including Rick Genest, aka Zombie Boy.

An inventive form of self-expression, the centuries-old practice was first seen on a woman's skin in 1858, when Olive Oatman was tattooed with tribal lines on her chin - the Mohave Indians she was raised by believed the lines would ensure her safe passage to the afterlife.
Now tattoo parlours have become part of popular culture, and since the first female British tattooist Jessie Knight opened her shop in 1921, in the UK alone, over 20million people have inked their body, fortunately with the use of a sophisticated electrical tattoo gun - in Japan, traditional tattoos are still created by manually puncturing the skin and wiping the wounds with dye.

Images © Margot Mifflin

Now in the third edition of her 1997 originally released book, "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo", author Margot Mifflin visually documents the evolution of tattoos in relation to the female form. From secretly tattooed society women in the 19th century 
and Queen Victoria's Bengal tiger fighting with a python, to the 70s feminist movement tattoo revival and designs used to cover up mastectomy scars in the 90s - the book features 200 photographs chronicling an eclectic mix of trailblazing inked women and various iconic female tattoo artists.
It's an intriguing exploration of an art form which was once considered taboo.

'Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo' is out now, published by Powerhouse Books.


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