Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tattoos Grow

     Tattoos are permanent, but not stationary.They are forces of constant mobility and malleability. Whether the tattoo catalyzes a movement or change or is itself affected by movements or changes, the tattoo proves a changeling and transcendent piece of art that has its birth on the body of one human but its childhood, its adolescence, its adulthood, and its death in the eyes of others, both contemporary and exogenerational.

     Juniper Ellis discusses this "travelling tattoo" phenomenon extensively in Tatooing the World. In her epilogue, Ellis writes that moko, a form of Maori tattoo, acts "as a hinge between ancestors and descendants, and thus depicting past, present, and future" (Ellis 196). In this Maori tradition, the tattoo is a colossus of time; a moko's import at one particular time is constantly held in relation to its at another particular time. As Ellis puts it, "moko portrays where the person is now, as well as where she or he has been and is going" (196). That is to say, the tattoo is subject to change through time as much as it is subject to permanence on the skin. And crucial in creating this dynamic is the human entities on which and through which this tattoo is given provenance, direction, and purpose. Forever bound to this human presence,a  tattoo serves as a distinctly and intimately human creation - developing as humankind develops and as humankind prescribes. Albert Wendt's short story "The Cross of Soot," alluded to by Ellis in her book, exemplifies this human-tattoo development dynamic.

      Within his story, based on real events, Wendt describes his first tattoo: a cross on his hand. Wendt requested a star, but the tattoo artist rendered a cross. Parallel to this tattooing is a change in the recipient (known simply as "the boy") into something much more than a boy. In short, as the tattoo is changed, the boy is changed. A swing from concept to actuality, from hoping for a star to bearing a cross, manifests in the boy's evolution from looking for a father figure to finding the ultimate father figure in "Jesus" (Wendt 20). As such, the tattoo and the boy become inseparable life partners, growing and developing step for step, from birth to rebirth; the change in the boy is attributed to the tattoo and, henceforth, the change in the tattoo will be determined by the boy.

        Also, the change in the tattoo will be determined by outside observers. In the short story's case, a community of readers will take liberty to interpret the tattoo in various contexts and permutations: as a literary element in a short story and as an actual article on a living, writing human being. Countless questions will be raised. What does the tattoo symbolize? What does the tattoo indicate about the characters: the artist, the boy, and Wendt? What can we infer from the tattoo? In the end, the tattoo will exchange roles as both a fictional element and a real article and be received, scrutinized, interpreted, redrawn, and re-adorn in varying ways by varying people, both fictional and real. The tattoo will thus become a well-traveled and well-grown item and fulfill a certain meta status and colussus status as something "owned simultaneously by bearer, artist, and community" (194).

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