Friday, July 10, 2009

Living Art

Tattoo machineSummer is a busy time for art in Santa Fe. There's the International Folk Art Market, Spanish Market, Indian Market, and great gallery and museum exhibits, including at the libraries. However, for a true visual feast, Santa Fe is great for its abundance of tattooed residents and visitors.

Tattooing is an ancient art, with both secular and sacred uses. It's been around for over five thousand years, and variations of this type of body modification are evident in cultures around the world. It's pretty obvious that there's been a resurgence in the art in recent years, and it's not uncommon to see tattoos everywhere, especially in the warm weather.

The Tattooed Lady: A HistoryWhile tattoos used to be the provenance of sailors and convicts, there were rare brave women who got permanently inked in an era when even showing an ankle was risqué. A fellow librarian has written The Tattooed Lady: A History, due out in November. Until then, there's a companion blog that is worth checking out for the insightful links and pictures.

Tattoos aren't just skulls, snakes, and hula girls. Shelley Jackson wrote a short story, "Skin", that exists primarily as tattooed Words on volunteers. There have been Word Gatherings around the world as different Words compare fonts and perhaps try to make a full sentence. LiveJournal hosts a community of Words in different stages of the process.

Great book of tattoo designsIf you like the idea of text on the body, be careful about tattoos in foreign languages. Chinese and Japanese characters are especially popular, but the literal translations are not often what they seem. The blog Hanzi Smatter is dedicated to literal or accurate translations of often ridiculous body art. For example, a tattoo believed to mean, "Only God will judge me," more accurately translates as, "The great emperor's tailor."

Finally, over the past decade or so there's been much ado about tattoos on librarians, often lumped in with piercings and interesting hair colors. Debates in the professional library literature, email lists, websites, and blogs concern questions such as: Is it unprofessional to be tattooed, even if it's covered up at work? Can I get fired for having a tattoo? Is it ok if the tattoo is the Universal Library Sign? Can I be a library director with a tattoo or nose-ring? Thankfully the furor has died down somewhat, and LibraryLand can refocus on less superficial issues such as expanding and sustaining services in a down economy.

The librarian from the black lagoonBut to those folks who are still shocked when they spot some ink on their friendly and brilliant neighborhood librarian, my response is that librarians are people too! As tattoos and blue hair and piercings have become more widely accepted, a decent percentage of librarians are going to indulge in some permanent and beautiful art. Also, the library's art collections have some great ideas if you're off to get your first or thirty-first tattoo. Those less daring can go to a local card shop and purchase a book of Library/Book-oriented temporary tattoos to join in the art of tattooing.

And if there are any of Shelley Jackson's "Words" in the area, I'm "of". Pleased to meet you!

1 comment:

Elwood P. Dowd said...

From "A hipper crowd of shushers" (New York Times, July 8, 2007):

The groups’ members were librarians. Or, in some cases, guybrarians. “He hates being called that,” said Sarah Murphy, one of the evening’s organizers and a founder of the Desk Set, a social group for librarians and library students.

Ms. Murphy was speaking of Jeff Buckley, a reference librarian at a law firm, who had a tattoo of the logo from the Federal Depository Library Program peeking out of his black T-shirt sleeve.