Tattoo 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.


The World's Oldest Surviving Tattoo Shop

Tattoo oldestThe Razzouk family has been inking religious pilgrims in the Middle East for 700 years.


In Jerusalem’s Old City today, you can find a uniquely obscure historical relic—the sole surviving pilgrimage tattoo business, Razzouk Ink. It’s a place where ancient artifacts meet contemporary machines, rich history intersects with modern technology. Twenty years ago, as a budding tattoo scholar, I first read about the adventures of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and the indelible souvenirs they had inscribed under their skin. I never expected to one day get the opportunity to follow in their footsteps and receive my own.

Just inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, you can duck down the second side street to the left, finding respite from the beating sun and leaving the bustle of the crowded main square. A tiny shop, almost dwarfed by its prominent sign, lies across a quiet cobblestone road. If you didn’t know anything about the incredible, centuries-long history of the family who runs this particular shop, the sign’s tagline might cause you to do a double-take: “Tattoo With Heritage Since 1300” it reads.  

Read the full article here.

Dad Turns His Child's Drawings into Tattoos

Kenny Ong of New Fashion writes about a father who turns his son's drawings into tattoos. And they are beautiful and unique!


Child tattoos Child tattoosFor eleven-year-old Kai Anderson from Ontario, he’ll always having a permanent fan of his drawings. That’s because his dad Keith Anderson has been getting them tattooed on him and it probably can’t get more permanent than that. Keith has been selecting one drawing of Kai’s for the past seven years for this unusual purpose and he said: ‘People who are not into tattooing get it and seem to think it’s cute. Others think I have just let my kid draw on me with markers’. We think it’s the perfect dad-son bonding experience to savor for years to come.

New Wave of Ink Counterculture in Tattoos

There are two instances recently of the evolution of tattoos.

One is 3-D tattoos which are often geometric but are sometimes graphically organic. My first reaction is horrified. My second reaction is intrigued. These three dimensional looking tattoos sometimes go over the top. I am not sure I could live with one. But they are certainly attention getters. As described by PSFK - 3D Tattoos Jump Right Off The Skin Like the shift from medieval paintings to Renaissance onces, so is the shift in tattoo art a lesson in perspective. There is currently an ongoing rise in three dimensional tattoos, that cleverly use shadowing and contrast to create the illusion of an image literally coming off or out of the skin. Adding a new dimension – both literally and figuratively – to tattooing, injects the genre with a renewed sense of wonder.

3d tatoo


The second trend is truly art driven. As described by PSFK - Cyborg Instrument Reads Tattoos Like A Musical Score Media artist Dmitry Morozov has created an instrument that uses tattoos as musical notation. The Tattoo Sound Controller uses black lines’ sensors that are mounted onto a railing that the wearer attaches to their arm. Morozov’s aim is to ‘represent the artist and his instrument as a creative hybrid’, transforming his tattoo from merely abstract lines to a musical instrument.

Music tattoo

My Arm The Comic - Comic Strip Via Tattoo

My-Arm-The-Comic-4-350x226Artist and illustrator Patrick Yurick got a tattoo of blank comic frames on the inside of his forearm and then fills them in with a different story each day. He then takes a photo of each comic and posts them on his website, My Arm The Comic. Yurick is an artist, educator, and entrepreneur. You can find out more about his work on his website The HeadComic.

I think the pressure to come up with comic ideas would be too intense for me!


Best Movie Tattoos

Flavorpill has posted an interesting list of the best cinematic tattoos. Think Jack Straw in Pirates, the knuckle tattoos of Harry Powell’s Love and Hate, Night of the Hunter and the fantastic Dragon tattoo from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Here is the intro. Click on the link above for them all.

When presenting a character in a film, directors and costume designers think very carefully about every last detail: what color shirt, what brand of shoes, how mussed the hair. Maybe this is why some of the coolest and most apt tattoos we’ve ever seen have popped up in movies, from the original knuckle tattoos to this year’s hottest movie sensation (hint: dragons). From the silly to the terrifying, the ominous to the controversial, click through to see our ten favorite tattoos on film, and since we know there are hundreds of great ones out there, be sure to let us know if we’ve missed any of your own favorites in the comments.

Tattoo illustrated man Tattoo illustrated man

Analog Tattoo Arts Kolectiv

Analog Tattoo Arts Kolectiv Just got this announcement from Gallery AD about a wonderful tattoo exhibit by the Analog Tattoo Arts Kolective. This is billed as the third and final installment of a tattoo arts documentation project by the global tattoo community of the Analog Tattoo Arts Kolectiv.
BLOODWORK: BODIES is yet again an unprecedented, artistic and historic project 4 years in the making by 53 tattooers completing 119 backpieces & bodysuits from 5 continents presented in 360˚ interactive views. A 360˚ concept was developed in response to a common issue when viewing a photographed tattoo. That is, alone a photo often struggles to capture the fourdimensional aspects of large scale tattooing. “It looks amazing but I wish I could see it in person,” is a common phrase spoken by tattooers, who often are not visually satisfied until they can physically move around or handle the tattoo being observed. It’s a true statement from any sincere connoisseur. One really does need to follow the flow around and into the multi-dimensional aspects of a tattoo to completely understand what the tattooer is trying to convey.