Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Body Art of Tattoos: Enter 3D, Optical Illusion and Digital Designs

From time immemorial body art has been with man; ancient people and tribes had scarification, body paintings and drawings. Scarification were incisions put on the body; for instance, the men in some African tribes scarify their faces and bodies as, or for purposes of tribal identification or rituals, while body paintings and drawings were achieved using earth and plant dyes or pigments usually for aesthetic reasons. These designs were not necessarily detailed decorations.

Elaborate tattoo on the back

In modern times however, tattoos are still with us, or have made a comeback mainly as a form of self expression by the youths majorly, and especially in the urban centres. But wherever else you see tattoos, it has remained for the same primordial reasons of tribal aesthetics, ritual or religious and ceremonial purposes, etc. In Igbo traditional settings for example, the Uli design which is primarily a form of wall decoration, was also extended to body beautification especially of maidens whom most of the time were rather scantily dressed with cloth but with heavy adornment of beads.

Uli body decoration of the Igbo

Also, in the northern or Hausa/Fulani dominated regions of Nigeria, Lali is a popular body art also especially of the female folks. Many at times these adornments were put up for one celebration or ceremony or the other such as virginity rites or wedding preparations of maidens, etc. All of these and more are tattoos in their rights, and they have today returned with a rather different swing.

But for whatever purposes and intents, tattoo has always been a form of art or artistic expression.  Tattoo today I make bold to say, falls in the realm of pop art that is in terms of the urban culture and types of artistic expressions in the various genres of art that we all witness today. The use, to which tattoos are put among the main proponents of this art, is purely for self expressions which may be derived from several reasons best known to the ones who adorn or wear them. Recently Newsweek in its publication talked about how the 3D tattoo fashion has emerged from the realist movement in painting attempting to portray objects in the most life-like way possible.
Samoan body tattoo. Courtesy:

And so this art form which has assumed a loud popular culture among a segment of the young population of society, could actually be talking back at us; they could be making social statements that may be difficult to decode first hand. Even though tattoos are worn for mainly self expression today, it is also important to note that it is a way of identification for, and by those whose culture, orientation and ideologies are embedded in the esoteric. Many critics of this practice strongly believe that some cults, religious bodies and social groupings of certain kinds have also chosen tattoos as a way of identifying their members and relating with each other.

Today tattoo has become a fashion fad; it is a trend that comes with its chock and even appeal though for some. This new consciousness is a fad that is cutting across even beyond the youth or young generation. Tattoos are now seen not only in dark monochromatic depictions but also in multi-coloured pictures of whatever you can just imagine – ranging from scorpions to spiders, butterflies, the crucifix, scull, love signs, the sun, and what have you. But tattoos are more expressive and catchy on fair skins, and so many dark skinned fellows are not relenting in trying to make themselves a part of this sweeping modern fashion.

Intricate 3D digital ink tattoo

As in everything that is operative in today’s high tech society, digitisation has caught on also with the tattoo art. And so the next phase of this form of expression is becoming highly sophisticated; the artists have enriched their knowledge and are now able to execute highly ‘refined’ and detailed tattoos with intricate features that tend to jump at you from the ‘canvas’ – your skin. They come even with shadows and are definitely three dimensional (3D) multi-coloured art works wrought with digital technology. In Nigeria today it is obvious that the renewed tattoo fad certainly makes you take a second look, but I tell you the latest trend in body ink which is about to hit you will definitely make you take a third look.

So many of course have become apprehensive about this ‘new’ shock culture as it were, but I guess it is just one of those things; this tide will eventually one day pass but not before the artists who create these visuals are done with the exciting 3D ink with which they are able to create the in-coming phase of irresistible optical illusions. But at this point I will just say - welcome to the new, unending world of tattoo.

By Morgan Nwanguma

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