Tattoos as art have come a long way from the days of “I love Mom” on the arm of some greasy biker. Nowadays, the poppie sitting next to you in class is just as likely to have a tattoo as the rocker kid sitting in front of you.

MEGAN SCHOEMAN

Tattoos as art have come a long way from the days of “I love Mom” on the arm of some greasy biker. Nowadays, the poppie sitting next to you in class is just as likely to have a tattoo as the rocker kid sitting in front of you.

Permanent ink has become less taboo and more fashionable amongst the youth of the 21st century. Meghan Alberts, tattoo artist at the Keep it Real tattoo parlour in Hatfield Plaza, reckons that the art of tattooing has become more mainstream as a result of television shows like Miami Ink.

Since the time of Ancient Egypt, long before Miami Ink, tattoos have been used for various functions. In Nazi Germany, a set of numbers were forcibly inked onto the inner or outer arms of Jews in the Holocaust as a means of identification. But tattoos as a means of identification have also been used in cultures and social groups – particularly gangs. These tattoos can also be interpreted as a sign of a “rites of passage”, initiation technique or official acceptance of a group member.

Tattoos, along with birthmarks and scars, are considered “soft biometrics” used in forensic identification. Soft biometrics include markings as physical characteristics that can change slightly with time. For example, prisoners are identified by the tattoos they carry.

So it seems that the common thread between tattoos is identification. Often people attach deep meaning to the tattoos that decorate their bodies. “It’s a way of self-expression, a way to feel different,” says third-year journalism student, Ferial Carelse, “a sort of ‘painted happiness.’” One of her tattoos is a quote by French philosopher, Albert Camus: “In the depth of winter, I finally learnt that within me is an invincible summer.” This is tattooed in a cursive font on the front of her right shoulder as an expression of the role of poetry and writing in her life. “It is a vocalisation of how I felt in the past year.If I can survive that which I’ve been through, I can survive anything,” she says.

Alberts, a former UP graphic design student, goes as far as saying that tattoos are “an extension of personality”. Her colleague, qualified tattoo artist Charlie Hearne explains that each of his tattoos seal a time in his life.

Another thing that members of the tattoo community agree on is that once you’ve gotten one tattoo you are very likely to go back for another.

TuksFM DJ, Michael Bower, is an example of this. Over the past four years he has tattooed five images of different sizes on his upper body. He explains that his tattoos are a chronological expression of his emotions. “They classify where I am in life.”

For example, his back is devoted to freedom. When he was in Brazil in 2006 he inked his first tattoo. It is a script reading “Livre para sempre” which means “Forever free” in Portuguese.

Next came his devotion to music, which he is most certainly not shy about. He lifts his shirt, covers his nipples and pushes his lip ring into a naughty smile. On his chest he displays an old, winged microphone rising from smoking flames. The text below reads “Push up the level.”

But Bower agrees that tattooing should not be taken lightly. A significant amount of research and thought should be put into the idea of tattooing before you decide to get comfortable on a chair at Keep it Real.

LLB student MJ Swart has undergone two of ten laser sessions to remove the tattoo of a knife on his forearm. However, he says that he will get a tattoo again. Some good advice, he reckons, is to decide on a design and stick it on your fridge for six months. If you still like it after that, then get it tattooed.

Tattoos are possibly a result of the effect of visual culture on the youth of today. Even though your mom might frown upon it, there is no doubt that tattoos have become more socially acceptable. But perhaps Francois van Coke’s mom won’t mind that he never forgets her birthday, thanks to the tattoo of her birth date (along with his father’s birth date) on his wrist.

Regardless, this advice has never been more applicable: “Think before you ink!”

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