Margo DeMello's Bodies of Inscription
09:10 AM

bodies of inscription.jpgAlthough Bodies of Inscription by Margo DeMello was published in 2000, it's still an excellent analysis of the stratified nature of the modern tattoo world. She begins with an overview of ancient tattoo history, bringing to light some nuanced views of the European "re-discovery" of Maori tattoo culture. She describes how these people were exploited for their traditions of preserving tattooed skulls and then subsequent exploitation for general European amusement.

The modern American evolution of tattoos are also discussed in depth -- from the first known professional tattoo artist Martin Hildebrandt (who worked at a time when the tattoo artist was more of a craftsman than an artist) to the modern artistic renaissance starting with the likes of Sailor Jerry and Ed Hardy.

Interestingly, her research also involves an analysis of tattoo's most voluminous written histories: tattoo magazines.

I had never thought about the intellectual and class warfare going on within the very tattoo magazines I've been buying for years. She details the difference between the "biker-style" tattoo magazines, such as Tattoo and the more "high brow" tattoo pubs like International Tattoo, each focusing on different aspects of the art.

It's this issue of "class" that DeMello particularly focuses on, as it is often overlooked in the context of tattoo culture. In fact, there are many class issues within the community that she brings to light: for one, she describes how the current renaissance in tattoo art is, in part, a class shift from tattooing being a working class art form to middle and upper class, evident in design and artistic choices. You can even see it today in the debates over the word choice of "tatted" or "tattooed" (in some circles, it's a faux pas to even acknowledge the existence of the word "tat.")

With the current explosion in acceptance and popularity of tattoos, the cultural shifts are becoming ever more evident, and thus, this book remains not only relevant but important to today's tattoo community.

Reading around the net, I've seen that Ms. DeMello does have her share of critics: some accuse her of being elitist, an outsider posing as an insider. I don't know about the merit of these critiques but I do know that she is a scholar who has given us a body of work to be discussed and debated as the tattoo community morphs and grows.

L8r dawgs.

Buy Bodies of Inscription from Amazon.com for $17.21.


This is on my shelf and I continuously reference it for articles and even the book I'm doing now.

Thanks for this, Miguel!

thanks for the heads up, ill check it out!

what are the writer's qualifications for writing about the tattoo industry, btw?
just wondering if she was also a tattoo artist, shop owner, etc.

i usually just get annoyed at folks that make judgements about us from 'the outside', but ill give it a shot.

from the preface

"I have been getting tattooed since 1987 and have defined myself as a member of the tattoo community since 1988 when i began attending tattoo conventions and reading tattoo magazines, as well as collecting more extensive tattoos. When I began studying within the community, I was a tattooed woman married to a brand-new tattooist"

She has written Encyclopedia of body adornment and Bodies of Inscription.

A good question is what makes someone a member of the tattoo community, thats a good discussion piece.

absolutely Miguel, that sounds like a great discussion.
on one hand who the fuck are "they" to say they are part of the community? have they paid thier dues? have they gone thru the initiation rites? my rectum still hurts from that...

on the other hand who the fuck are "we" to say who is or isnt? whats the criteria?

i think the easy-going, general way of looking at it is if someone has a tattoo (ANY tattoo) Bam! your in the club.

uptight otherfuckers trying to guard thier positions will cry and whine that if you dont have at least 50 years in a shop, you aint shit.

personally, i go with the former. everyone is invited in my less-than-humble, dumbass opinion.
but what i was getting at isnt who can be a "member of the tattoo community", its what makes someone (DeMello in this case) an AUTHORITY, or an expert. what gives them the credibility to write i book about the tattoo community. im not saying the book isnt good, or she doesnt have the right (she damn well does) but when do we as members of the community say 'ok, this person knows thier shit and can represent us'.

otherwise its a free-for-all and rush limbaugh gets to write a book about the tattoo community that has as much authority as those we truely respect.

get what im saying?

PS: nothing against Ms/Miss/Mrs DeMello.

Hmm, that's interesting! I would search on Google to find other similar information. Actually, I came across your blog on Google Blog Search. I'm going to add your RSS feed to my reader. Continue posting please!

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