Fertility Signs in Body Art

From signs of fertility to talismans of protection at war, tattoos have been used throughout human existence by different cultures for a variety of reasons.

I know many people with tattoos. My ex husband and youth friend is covered with small tattoos he's collected which signify different stages of his teenage years. Off-course, he’s a musician, historian, and artist. But my brother in law the dentist has one, and so does his sister the accountant. I live in the Bay Area, where just about everybody has at least one (usually many), and there’s a tattoo shop about every other block. So the thought of getting one has crossed my mind on many occasions for the same reason — as a symbol of individuality — of being a creative in a culture lead by suits, bar codes, and credit card numbers. So what has kept me from getting one? My profession is in the realms of the arts where tattoos are fully embraced? Well, the truth is that it just feels so permanent. Throughout my life I have grown-out or evolved from so many phases. What if I grow out of that perpetual mark I would be sentencing myself to? And that’s where my personal debate on the matter always seems to come to an end.

But considering the pain, the expense, and the permanence, isn't it fascinating that it's still such a popular ritual? Could it be remains of tribal instincts? A kind of low brow vanity? Or just monkey see monkey do behavior?

I ran across a Smithsonian article about an excavation in Egypt where paintings of Egyptian women with tattoos on their right thigh were found, which lead to the conclusion that tattoos were used during that period as signs of fertility. Girls got initiated with tattoos when they started menstruating as a symbol of bridging from girlhood to womanhood. So then I thought of how my thoughts of getting a tattoo have always been about it signifying something instead of just mere adornment. And my curiosity magnified and I started taking photographs and interviewing, mostly women but some men who weren't the stereotypical tattoo bearers too, on what were their personal (perhaps instinctual) motives for getting a tattoo, why they chose the specific design, and what were their thoughts on permanent body art in general. Since most modern literature on permanent body art have a masculine approach, I decided to focus on feminine and nature related symbols, the feminine quality of nature, or fertility signs.

I hope to compile enough research, photos, and interviews to finish a book. I would love it if you contacted me with thoughts, interesting articles on the subject, pictures you would like to contribute etc. You will definitely be attributed in the book if I decide to use any material you kindly provide. Here I leave you with some of hundreds of pictures I've taken. Pics © Inda Liza Luciano, please don't use them without attribution. Thanks a bunch!

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