Results tagged “Thailand”

Aug201123
01:42 PM
sacred skin thailand.jpg
There have been a number of posts on this blog devoted to Sak Yant, sacred tattoos, performed by monks in Thailand. The yantras, mystical diagrams, on skin are not only beautiful, but for many, the tattoos bestow upon the wearer super-human powers.

Exploring Sak Yant from its origins to today is "Sacred Skin: Thailand's Spirit Tattoos" by Tom Vater and Aroon Thaewehatturat.


The book begins with an up-close look into the
Wai Khru ceremony at the Wat Bang Phra Buddhist temple:  "Uaaahh! The man is running straight at me, his face contorted into a thousand agonies. His bare, heavily tattooed chest gleams with sweat. He screams at the sky, he vomits anger, but he's rushing directly ahead."  The frenzied text, like the tattooed man, soon calms and the reader is then led into the studio of Achan Thoy (pictured below), "a highly respected Dabot Ruesi, a hermit sage of Hindu origin, known as a Rishi or Yogi in India, a man with the power to apply sacred and magic tattoos to a devotee's skin." The scene painted in that studio is indeed magic, with incantations, katas, and of course blood. It is not a mere tattoo appointment. It is a ritual.

sak yant tattoo.jpg

Tracing the roots of the ritual, the first chapter of Sacred Skin goes back thousands of years in describing Sak Yant designs and the beliefs behind them, particularly beliefs that the tattoos protect wearers against physical attack and further their strength -- beliefs that are still commonly held today. According to the book, it's because of this that many Thai people "disapprove of the sacred tattoos, ridiculing them as superstition and branding Sak Yant as part of the perceived backwardness of Thailand's rural population." Moreover, like in so many other parts of the world, the tattoos are heavily associated with Thailand's criminal underground.

Yet, as the authors explain, there are many layers to these spiritual tattoos. Most importantly, the monks who create them see Sak Yant as "silent and powerful reminders of a righteous path that all of us, whether we wear yant or not, should aspire to follow."

Chapter II on these tattoo masters and their devotees is especially compelling. A portrait of each is presented along with a short handwritten note by that person discussing the art.

Chapter III offers close-ups of traditional tattoo designs and their meanings; for example, this elephant below, Yant Chang, symbolizes strength.

thai tattoo elephant.jpgSacred Skin then comes full circle in Chapter IV, with even more intense photography from the Wai Khru celebration. The book itself is almost a seamless journey into Thai tattoo culture. I highly recommend it.

I also suggest checking out the Bangkok Post's review and CNN's interview with the authors. The CNN interview also briefly discusses Thailand's Ministry of Culture cracking down on religious tattoos (which we wrote about in June).

Sacred Skin can be purchased on Amazon for $24 (originally $33). And for a peak inside, click SacredSkinThailand.com.
Jun201101
02:48 PM
Yesterday, a number of news agencies, including the Global Post, reported that Thailand's Ministry of Culture is considering a ban on tattooing sacred Buddhist and Hindu symbols on foreign tourists. The National News Bureau of Thailand offered this explanation:

Citing a survey in Phuket Island, Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat admitted that a number of foreigners coming to Thailand are interested in having their skin tattooed with Buddha images or Hindu god Ganesh in several parts of their bodies such as arms, legs, ankles or chests.

The Minister indicated that using religious objects as tattoo patterns is inappropriate according to the Thai tradition and culture as well as affect the faith of people toward those religions.

Religious tattoo patterns are very popular among foreign tourists and can be as expensive as 20,000 baht each. Some of the tourists deem religious tattoo patterns a fashion without any religious respect while some probably have those tattoos because of ignorance.

The Minister has asked provincial governors across Thailand, especially in popular tourist areas, for their cooperation in cracking down on religious tattoos on foreigners. As noted in the Phuket Gazette, this won't be an easy task. Tattoos on tourists is big business with some costing over upwards of 20,000 baht (over $650).

There's also the issue that many of the tourists could indeed be Buddhist or Hindu themselves. I personally know many who have traveled to Thailand specifically for a sacred Yantra (or Sak Yant) tattooing. One such person is Father Panik who offered a guest blog on his experience seeking Sak Yant last year. He also shared a few photos like the ones shown here.

For more on Yantra, check this site, which has extensive links and photos.
Jan201125
06:23 PM
permanent mark.jpg
So it seems I'm a bit late to the party for the latest in tattoo TV. Last month, the testosterone channel Spike TV launched Permanent Mark, a three-episode special that follows 20+-year tattoo veteran "Permanent Mark" Walters as he travels the world experiencing various tattoo cultures. Here's how Mark explains the show:

I've been beating down doors for 7 years in Hollywood, way before the Miami Ink and L.A Ink and all the other shows about tattoos on TV. I was trying to get networks to film a show about how I would break into the subcultures of indigenous tattoos worldwide no matter what nasty shit I had to eat, what new fever I would catch, or what hole I had to crap in with a leaf too small to wipe my ass. All these things would get me respect in certain tribes and cultures because I never pretend to be tougher than I was, and my humility and stupidity showed them I was only human.

With this, I finally found myself in all my tattooed glory, sitting in a lot of network boardroom meetings. This is when producers at Spike TV, who had a filthier mouths than me, said to me "do what you want, we don't want to see the usual travel show. Get down and get f*cking dirty." That was all I had to hear.

I wrote 13 ideas and countries down and we made the decision that the Borneo headhunters (episode 1), the Yakuza in Tokyo (episode 2), and the Sak Yant tattoos made by the monks in Thailand (episode 3) would make the most compelling stories.

I'm not going lie to you, I lived in Japan and had my tangles with the Japanese mob as well as going to Thailand to collect tattoos by a dear friend who happens to be a monk, but I had never been to Borneo. Although everything I went through on the show was completely real, I never used my contacts in any country. It's really important to me that I show you, the audience how over the last 30 years I was able to infiltrate and be accepted by different cultures, and not only that, but have had the honor of earning their mark, in a culture where money doesn't mean a god damn thing, but your heart, your drinking abilities, killing the odd chicken or goat, and having the strength to eat the ceremonial sheep eye ball got me where I am today.

You can watch the full episodes online here. It's compelling TV. Grittier and more SpikeTV-ish than Discovery's Tattoo Hunter with tattoo anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak, which we loved. Let's see if Permanent Mark has lasting appeal and gets picked up.

Also, check Mark's video blogs on YouTube like the one below.

Dec201017
11:25 AM
Traveling Mic Calendar.jpgThe motto of tattoo journalist Travellin' Mick is "Wherever I lay my head is home," and over the years, "home" has often been remote villages where Mick has stayed with indigenous people documenting their culture and body modification practices. While he has written extensively about his experiences for many tattoo magazines, the images and essays have never been collected into one comprehensive volume. He's now setting out to do so.

The first step in his publishing projects is a calendar and traveling exhibit called "In Your Face: The Beauty of Traditional Tattooing." The engaging wall calendar can be ordered via Trust Bodymodification's online store for 20 Euros or by contacting Mick through his website. The US price is $30 and the UK's is 20 BP.   

Mick recently showed "In Your Face" in Singapore, and his next exhibition will be at Melbourne's  Rites of Passage Festival, January 28th to 30th. He plans to bring the series to cities across Europe throughout 2011.
    
Describing the motivation behind "In Your Face," Mick says:

Over the last ten years of traveling, I accumulated a vast archive of photographs of traditional tattoos on people from around the world. Even though they were originally taken for documentary purposes, over time I realized that many of the portraits I did have an undeniable aesthetic quality: They tell stories of those people, show their pride and beauty.  Often they are the very last ones of their kind, maybe 100 years old, and in their faces and eyes you can clearly see the history of their people.

I wanted to share a few of those pictures to tattoo fans of today, and a calendar is a good format for that because you can bring out a selection of large scale photographs for people to appreciate at home, one by one, month after month. If you want, you can keep or even frame selected images. This way, the people who are depicted will live on, their traditions remembered, even after their bodies and tattoos are gone.

Here are just a couple of images from the calendar and the stories behind them:

calendar03Mar.jpg


"March: I was looking for traditional tattoos in Gujarat province of India near the Pakistan border. I came to an old weaver's house, who was maybe in his 50s. He said: 'Oh, I don't have any tattoos, but my grandmother has!' She was 96 when I took those photos, and she was very alert and funny."
calendar04April.jpg "April is a crazy one: This boy is a refugee kid from Myanmar. There is a monastery on the Thailand side of the border, where those kids are taken in, given an education, learn how take responsibilities by training horses and practicing martial arts. They get marked by the head monk, with a bee, because it is a social animal, one that labours for the well-being of the whole society, not just himself."

I'm looking forward to seeing the next stage in this project, a large-format book filled with his photographs with detailed descriptions of the images along with travel stories, his personal philosophy, and more.
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