Fashion Feed

Sicanje, an Ancient Balkan Tattoo Tradition, Draws a New Generation

Bosian tattoosThis from Atlas Obscura -

For millennia, women adorned their daughters, and sometimes sons, with symbols of belonging and protection. Then the practice vanished—until now.

For millennia, women in what is now Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina performed sicanje—the word means, literally, “to prick”—on their daughters. Using needles and a mixture of soot, spit, honey, and breast milk, the tattooing tradition covered the hands, chest, and sometimes forehead with deeply symbolic patterns.

In the 1920s, anthropologist Edith Durham wrote that sicanje had passed from one generation of women to the next for nearly 4,000 years. In the mid-20th century however, it vanished. Now, a new generation of Balkan women—and men—is reviving the tradition as part of a larger trend to reclaim and celebrate their heritage.

“Unfortunately we don’t have any primary sources [about the tradition’s origins]. We only have the Greeks talking about them as their opponents,” says Marija Maracic, coauthor of The Sicanje Project, an oral and visual history of the tradition. In written histories and on vases and other artwork, ancient Greeks depicted Balkan people with tattoos, and archaeologists working in the region have discovered bronze tattooing needles in 3,000-year-old graves. Some of the ancient designs appear universal, such as the kolo circle, representing family and unity; it shares a name with a traditional dance still performed at weddings and family reunions. Other tattoos, such as a particular combination of motifs, appear to signify a specific village or tribe.

In fact, sicanje symbolized identity but also protection, blessing, and beauty for centuries. As the Balkans became Christianized in the ninth century, the pagan tradition of sicanje evolved to incorporate Catholicism. For example, the kriz, a pagan symbol of the four cardinal directions, became a stylized Christian cross. And while women had traditionally marked their adolescent daughters on the vernal equinox as a rite of passage, they began doing it on the feast day of St. Joseph, which falls close to the arrival of spring.

In the 15th century, sicanje transformed again, this time into an act of resistance. Under Ottoman rule, Christian Balkan families were levied devshirme, sometimes called the blood tax. Boys as young as eight were taken to Istanbul in a system designed to surround the emperor with loyal foreign servants, limiting the power of the Turkish elite. Devshirme were often well educated, and served as high-ranking soldiers and bureaucrats, but they were still far from home.

During this period, Catholic Balkan mothers began tattooing boys as well as girls, marking them prominently with symbols of protection and belonging. And if devshirme ever returned to their village as an adult, their sicanje would identify them, no matter how many years had passed.

As the Ottoman empire waned, sicanje continued on as a mark of beauty and religious and tribal belonging. The tattoos remained most common on women, but some men also carried the marks. In the mid-20th century, however, under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the tradition of sicanje began to fade. Maracic says modernization, urbanization, and other trends changed attitudes about old customs. Women started to hide their marks, and their daughters declined to receive them. By the 1960s, sicanje lived on only in fading marks on grandmothers’ hands.

In the 21st century, a new generation of historians and artists are rediscovering the tradition. Maracic sees the growing global acceptance and interest in tattoos as a major factor in sicanje’s revival. Popularizing the nearly-lost art is also a way for people to celebrate their heritage and identity in a post-Yugoslavia world.


Love These Hats!

Hat donut-1000x563According to Israel21c, Maor Zabar makes some crazy hats. They are definitely artworks unto themselves.

Growing up in Haifa, Maor Zabar was the kind of kid who painted on the furniture and drew on the walls.

“I used to drive my parents nuts,” admits the 42-year-old award-winning costume and hat designer.

Fortunately, his parents indulged their little boy’s artistic exploits. They sent him to afterschool art lessons and the WIZO Haifa Academy of Design for high school. He spent a year living with an uncle in New York, learning makeup artistry before finding his true calling.

Zabar’s famed creations include the attention-grabbing getup that Netta Barzilai wore for her winning performance in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. In 2014, Zabar started his hat business.

He doesn’t consider himself a milliner. He simply loves hats and wanted to create them freely outside the confines of his theatrical costume commissions.

“I don’t treat my hats as fashion items. I refer to them as art pieces,” he says.

It wasn’t long before images of his hats – featuring food, carnivorous plants, sea creatures, pride, and bride themes – from his online Etsy store began making a buzz in the blogosphere. “I get inspired by things I come across, even pictures in a book or a vacation I took,” explains Zabar.

You can spot Zabar’s hats on stylish heads at launch events, red-carpet events and British horseraces.

“If you’re daring enough and want to make a fashion statement, a hat is the most standout item to do that with,” says Zabar.

The Bronx Art Maze is Back

City-Maze-EntranceUp until September 12 at 39 Bruckner Blvd in the Mott Have neighborhood of the Bronx, Art Maze boasts some of the best known street artists.

Jane Dickson’s City Maze (1980) was one of Fashion Moda’s most celebrated exhibitions. The installation, which consisted of an elaborate cardboard maze adorned with graffiti, was a collaboration between Dickson and the graffiti artists Crash (John Matos) and Noc 167 (Melvin Samuels). Unsurprisingly, the artwork-cum-playground was a huge hit among the neighborhood’s kids.

Preceded a year earlier by John Ahearn’s South Bronx Hall of Fame (1979) (in which Ahearn made casts of local residents) and immediately followed by the enormously influential Graffiti Art Success for America (GAS) (1980) (one of the first exhibitions of graffiti art), City Maze was part of a triumvirate of exhibitions that put Fashion Moda on the map and seized the attention of the New York art scene.

Now, 35 years later, Dickson and Crash have reunited to create a new iteration of the iconic installation. “This is City Maze 2.0.,” Dickson told Hyperallergic over email. “It’s not a recreation but a new version referencing the first.”

The Return of City Maze is the second of two consecutive exhibitions at Wall Works dedicated to the artists of Fashion Moda (for a review of Session I click here). The newest version of “City Maze” includes facsimiles of historic street art work by artists such as John Fekner, Anton van Dalen, the Guerrilla Girls, and Christy Rupp, as well as new works by artists such as Judith Supine, the TATS CRU, Don Leicht, and Stefan Eins. As with the original installation, visitors are invited to draw or paste their own images on the walls of the maze.

According to Dickson, The Return of City Maze required around six months of planning and a week of preparation and installation. Dickson redesigned the maze’s layout so that it would fit within Wall Works’ space. The new maze is also more robust. The work was built with cardboard sheets instead of used cardboard refrigerator boxes, and the entire structure is held together with zip ties as opposed to staples. “I was afraid of how much work it would be and that I wouldn’t remember how I built the first one,” said Dickson. “Crash assured me he had a crew to help and he bought the materials.”

The mixing up of historic and contemporary pieces is a key strength of the work. The Return of City Maze appears to preserve the integrity of the original installation without falling prey to reverential nostalgia. Young kids will have endless fun running around the maze and inventing their own games, while adult audiences can appreciate the legacy of New York’s Downtown and graffiti art scenes.

“I included copies of street posters by me and my Downtown friends and collaborators from around 1980 to nod to the history of the original in a mash up with the new graf’ works” Dickson told Hyperallergic. “The energy of that moment came from the cross-pollination of gay/straight, uptown/downtown, sound/image, hip-hop/punk, black/brown/white … I want to celebrate that spectrum again here.”

Ariel Zuckerman Studio Uses Graffiti in Furniture Design

An inventive Israel furniture company is using graffiti in its designs.Tel Aviv-based Ariel Zuckerman Studio lets young designers create works of art on wooden boards attached to walls in small alleys

Designers Eran Shimshovitz and Ariel Zuckerman of the Ariel Zuckerman Studio in Tel Aviv are working on a project that brings graffiti on the streets to the world of furniture-making.

Their project called Street Capture combines street art and furniture. The designers attach wooden boards to the walls along hidden streets and small alleys – providing anonymous graffiti artists with a clean canvas for them to work on. After the wooden boards have been filled with street art, the designers take them down and bring them back to their workshop. The wooden boards are then used to create functional furniture like drawers, chests, and tables.

Here is how it works:


According to their submission on Designboom, the designers didn’t tell people what the wooden boards were for because they wanted the street art to evolve naturally as if it were any other wall on the streets and allow the street artists to add their work anonymously.

It takes a couple of days or more for the wooden boards to be covered in graffiti art. Sometimes the boards remain untouched the morning after they were installed and sometimes only a few lines were added. The designers wait a few more days before they consider the art on the wooden boards as “complete.”

So far the designers have already been able to create a dresser called “Zerifin 35″ after the street address of the wooden board it was made from, a pair of bedside drawers, and a table from wooden boards they installed on street walls. The project is an ongoing series.

Hybrid Sneakers

Wassink-model-3-625x418A great pair of shoes has become the ultimate fashion statement. People will go to great lengths for limited edition kicks, custom shoes, and one-of-a-kind “statements for your feet.” So, it should be no surprise that Sander Wassink’s reconstructed, hybrid shoes are turning some heads.

Sander Wassink is an artist/designer that uses discarded and left over materials for his projects in an attempt to reimagine a new purpose for an existing commodity. To this end, his reconstructed hybrid shoes envision a life for designer knockoffs by using bits and pieces from many different pairs to make something new.

Sneakers As Art and Personal Expression

IMG_4346 Sneakers (Or are they called "kicks"? I don't know the lingo...) have made their way into the street art culture zeitgeist and even into high fashion. Take for example Nike which has a back room in its store in Soho New York City decorated with foot molds, strips of leather, a wall of shoe laces in various colors and even a few stray soles, where you can "design your own sneakers". That is somewhat misleading because what you are really doing is going on to a computer, chossing a style that already exists and adding your colors and flourishes. It is then sent to China where they are made for you. But the concept is interesting and it seems very popular.

I have been noticing that sneakers are part of the well dressed street artist wardrobe along with a special graffitied T-shirt and sometimes a cap.

So the question of the day is - will sneakers become another form of personal expression as is the T-shirt? .... or maybe I am so out of it that the question does not need to be asked as it is already a "yes"?

Da Bakery - Street Art Fashion and Gallery

Shiro-show-new-450x596 This has already been reported in several sources but it deserves an update.

One of the big trends in street art is fashion - street art / graffiti designed hats, shirts and sneakers. But do some designs clash? Is it time to coordinate your hat with your shirt with your shoes? The answer is definitely yes. And Da Bakery in the Bronx is one place where you can custom coordinate.

Da Bakery is also a gallery space for street artists. This month they highlight a female street artist, Shiro, who is from Japan.

There are simply not enough street art inspired galleries here in NYC and it is nice to know that Da Bakery offers graffiti artists a place to show their work.

Da Bakery is located at 1700 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx right near the 174th Street subway stop of the 2 and 5 trains.

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