Humans have been indelibly staining their skins since they grew big enough brains to lob rocks at wolves. Although there’s an inherent aesthetic to ancient designs like the Maori facial tattoos for instance, it runs a lot deeper than that. Symbolism runs through the art, stating your name, your tribe, your background or your feelings.
This still holds true today. If you have someone’s name in a Gothic font on your neck it means you’re a chav and like fighting and bear baiting. If you have anything written on you in Chinese it means you were into tattoos in the mid 90’s and didn’t have much imagination (unless you’re actually Chinese of course). And if you have a football team tattoo, it means you’re a plum. I jest of course. Or do I?
I’ve got two tattoos myself, one is supposed to remind me to keep playing music and the other is to remind me to keep a calm heart. I’m a failed musician and I’m always stressed out, so it didn’t work. Maybe I shouldn’t have put them on my back where I can’t see them? Oh well.
So, I was looking at the history of Russian prison tattoos this morning and the amount of detail and information you can get from someone through their body art alone is pretty impressive. They also look pretty awesome. Although not all of the images here are from tattoos done whilst actually inside prison, they’re all formed from that stock.
They’re certainly not polished or artistically pruned, but they are honest and as gnarly looking as they’re meant to be. Prison tattoos aren’t about shading and subtleties, they’re a black and white statement. Whether it’s belonging, loss, desperation or anger, the messages are clear to anyone who knows the lingo.
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