It can be assumed that most of our readers are from the lower mainland, and therefore already know about the fantastic Vancouver Tattoo & Culture Show, scheduled this year for April 25-27. But what if you live elsewhere, or are prone to world travel? Here are 6 must-visit tattoo shows happening around the world this year.
Like any other industry or artistic medium, body modification has its own, unique language – terms that are used pretty well exclusively within our community, and words that take on a new meaning in regards to our work. Below is a small “dictionary” of body mod terms.
BODY MODIFICATION : This is the all-encompassing term for tattoos, piercings, scarification, branding, dermal implants, stretching/gauging, and even several procedures that have nothing to do with an average tattoo shop, including plastic surgery, cosmetic tattooing, tooth shaping, and tightlacing. Body modification is, essentially, the deliberate alteration of one’s body and appearance.
BRANDING : Branding is a form of modification that uses high heat to effectively burn a design into your skin. There are a few different branding techniques, creating various styles.
CBB/CBR : When you get a new piercing, your piercer is likely to ask you what type of jewelry you would like. Many opt for studs or barbells to begin with, but you can often choose a CBB or a CBR as well. So, what are they? A CBB is a curved barbell – the horseshoe shaped pieces with a ball on each end. A CBR is a captive bead ring – the hoops with a ball connecting the ends.
DERMAL/SUB-DERMAL/TRANSDERMAL IMPLANTS : “Dermal” means, quite simply, “of the skin”. More specifically, the dermis is the layer of skin between the epidermis and the subcutaneous tissue. A dermal implant, then, is the insertion of a foreign object beneath it – generally semi-permanent jewelry, such as microdermals or dermal anchors, or silicone and Teflon implants, used to create designs under the skin.
GAUGE : “Gauge” refers to the thickness of your piercing needle and jewelry. The bigger the number, the thinner the jewelry. For example, someone wanting to stretch their lobes would likely start at 10g; the average navel piercing is 14g; and a standard earring or nostril piercing is between 16-18g. While we certainly don’t expect you to memorise all these numbers, if you are planning to stretch your piercing, it’s a good idea to get a feel for the sizes.
INFECTION/IRRITATION : In both tattooing and piercing, there is concern of infection and irritation, but many people do not know the difference between the two. Most often, when you think you have an infection, what you really have is irritation, which is much less severe, and much easier to remedy. Irritation can be caused by many things – too small jewelry, fabric rubbing against your new piece, not keeping it clean, or touching it too much are just a few common reasons. Most of the time, irritation can be treated by simply keeping it clean, and otherwise leaving it alone. An infection is more serious, and needs to be dealt with quickly. In both tattoos and piercings, infections have visible signs – dark colouring around your piece, foul odor coming from it, pain or severe bruising, and dark green or yellow discharge coming from it (white or light yellow discharge, however, is completely normal and not a sign of infection). If you fear you may have an infection, please see your artist or a doctor immediately.
PLUG : A plug is a usually cylindrical piece of jewelry most often used in stretched lobes. They differ from tunnels in that they are solid.
RIM : While it’s tempting to define each and every piercing there is, that would be a post or two unto itself. The rim is a very common piercing that is rarely called by its proper name, so addressing this one specifically seemed like a good idea. Most people wanting their rim pierced will ask for a “cartilage piercing”, but cartilage is common to several parts of your body – most of your outer ear, your back, your ribcage, and all of your joints, to name just a few. If you are wanting the cartilage at the top of your ear pierced, what you actually want is a rim piercing.
SCARIFICATION : Scarification is the creation of scars, usually via scalpels, to design the skin. There are several forms of scarification, resulting in different types of scars, giving the client and artist a wide range of creative possibilities.
ULTRASONIC & AUTOCLAVE : Two machines that no shop should be without. The ultrasonic uses high frequency waves to clean equipment much more thoroughly than could be done by hand. The autoclave uses extreme heat to sterilize equipment. The combination of methods ensures that any piece of equipment or jewelry that touches you is as clean as it is possible for something to be.
These are just a few common terms that you will hear around the shop – if there are more you have wondered about, leave a comment on our Facebook page.
She is young, perhaps 20, and has a lovely smile. Her hair is pulled back tightly, calling attention to her high cheekbones and large eyes. She is wearing very little, but is well wrapped in elaborate jewelry. She is, by any and all standards, beautiful. At least, her face is. I can’t be sure that everyone would find her body as striking as I do. Her arms, stomach, and chest appear to have been cut thousands of times, leaving a pattern of deep, raised scars all over her body. Intentionally. And this isn’t a modern day body-mod fanatic with green hair I’m looking at; this is a photograph of a woman from West Africa in the early 1900s.
Indeed, scarification is an ancient practice, and in many cultures, was the precursor to tattooing: some of the first tattoos were simply cuts that had ash rubbed into them so that the scar would appear grey or black. The reasons for the ritual practice vary greatly from culture to culture and era to era, but most share the general theme of identity. Maori men used to scar their faces before going into battle, or when in search of a wife, as the scars were seen as a symbol of strength and virility. Several African tribes use scarification to mark stages in one’s life and identify one’s lineage and status. In Papau New Guinea, scarification is performed in initiation and coming of age ceremonies. And, just to underline how little human nature really changes, all of these cultures also use(d) scarification to make themselves more attractive. It is this commonality between all people that may serve to explain how scarification made its way from ancient tribes to modern tattoo shops.
In the late 70s and early 80s, small groups of people across North America and Europe were taking noticeable interest in the tribal practices of other cultures. Sociological theories abound regarding why, and the reasons are likely multiple and layered, but one of the most obvious and highly agreed upon is a rejection of their own culture. Many were dissatisfied with their own histories, feeling we had long ago lost touch with our true selves, and let conformity and materialism take over. Returning to ancient cultures and practices served the dual purpose of visually standing out – rejecting the conformity – and making an attempt to find our roots, to reconnect with the universe itself. This movement has been labelled many ways – mainly as Neotribalism and Modern Primitivism. In its earliest inception, it was embraced mostly by GLBT and BDSM communities, but over time became the foundation for an entirely new subculture, and singlehandedly changed the landscape of body modification. Prior to Modern Primitivism, body modification consisted mainly of pre-drawn tattoos (“flash”), and jabbing safety pins through your friend’s ears or, if they were really rebellious, nostril, which, if it didn’t get horribly infected, would result in a “piercing”. Once this movement began to pick up some speed, however, it was unstoppable. Exploring countless cultures and practices while fashioning modern, customized tools opened the door to an endless list of possibilities; with the right tools and a little knowledge, almost any part of one’s body could be pierced, cut, branded, tattooed, and modified to their own specifications.
At this point, scarification was split into two main categories: cutting and branding. The former is what most people think of when they hear “scarification” – a sharp implement, most often a scalpel, is used to cut a design into the skin; the latter involves heated instruments burning the design into the flesh. Both, however, rely on the resulting scar to hold the pattern. Because everyone scars differently, it will never be a precise art – one can get a general idea of what the scars may look like upon healing by looking at others, but there is no way to guarantee your own will look the same. This unpredictability is often seen not as a downside, however, but as furthering the symbolism of identity and individuality – no two scars are the same.
Over the last 30 years, scarification has become slightly more common, but it has never, and probably will never, reach the status of tattooing and piercing. There is still something taboo about the idea of branding or slicing into one’s skin, something that gives many the heebie-jeebies. And perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps we need some of these practices to forever remain uncommon, to continue on as rites of passage and proud proclamations for only those who would truly appreciate such a ritual. Whether acquired intentionally or not, scars tell a story of where we have been, of what we have experienced. The scar is not the event itself – it is a symbol, a permanent reminder, of a particular moment in one’s life. For those who care to, our entire story can be read, and written, in our scars.