Exhibiting at the British Museum

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Aug 11th, 2011
Sj
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I have twelve tattoos at the moment. All of them in very visible places, my arms and legs being highly decorated.

Tattoos have some very negative press, particularly from the undecorated portion of the community. Tramp stamps, chav passports, I’ve heard most of them, and you only have to read some of the media forums where people unbridle their hate (in the curious belief that they are hidden from the world online and cannot be caught out in their cowardice) to know that everyone is judging you by your skin adornment.

Good grief!

As the inside of my left wrist says.

The other side of the coin is fascinating. If you spend as much time as I do, hanging out in places where curious minds meet, you are almost bound to have a conversation about your skin art.

I was waiting in the Great Court of the BM (British Museum). Now the BM is one of my favourite places in the known universe. Not only does it contain some of the most fascinating relics of man’s past, it used to house a great library (now moved to a new permanent home about half a mile away), and is still somewhere where the intellectually curious gather. I have had some amazing conversations in the BM about my tattoos.

dhoom machale

If one hangs about, fidgeting, in the Great Court, one is almost certain to briefly become one with the place and turn into a sort of living exhibit. In my case, I was fidgeting (I am not a particularly patient person) and happened to notice four Japanese ladies staring at my right arm. Now my dhoom machale is one of my favourite pieces, and I am particularly proud of it. Not only is the hindi script absolutely correct, my tattooist crafted it so it would look like a match set with the OM on my right ankle. My dhoom machale has started conversations with hindi speakers all over the place. I talk to a lot of car park attendants and supermarket checkout girls (they tend to be the least inhibited and will happily talk to anyone).

Anyway, the ladies noticed that I had seen them looking, and they came over for a closer look. A positive flurry of questions ensued. Did I know what the various symbols meant? Could I say the words? And so on and so forth.

They happily admired my large and fairly obvious collection, my little Maneki Neko made them all giggle. Then they had to obey the summons of their tour leader who whisked them away into the depths of the museum’s delights.

The Great Court, British Museum

A thoroughly charming, and interesting, interaction with five complete strangers who were open-minded and prepared to be charmed and delighted. One of the very many reasons I love the BM is that you meet people who are open-minded, who are not judgemental; who do not automatically assume that because I am a big girl with some very large and obvious tattoos that this makes me somehow less worthy or intelligent than everybody else.

I love all my tattoos. I did not pick them out of a book, or hang around the tattooists with the flash art seeking inspiration. They come from different sources, and they all have a very personal meaning to me. Serious tattooists bemoan the fact that tattoos have become a fashion item. They are hoping that fashion will die down soon, and only those serious about their skin art will be left.

I am deeply serious about my skin art. This level of skin art is a big commitment. As I told my friend’s four year old son, my tattoos do not wash off. True, it is possible to get rid of them, but I don’t want to, they are part of who I am. A visible expression of my soul within. That soul is not one of conformity. I spent most of my childhood trying to conform to what other people wanted, not succeeding, and being thoroughly miserable while doing it.

I am sometimes brash and loud, I break the rules of what a big girl’s life is supposed to be. But I never ever set out to harm another soul by thought or word or deed, I try to tread lightly upon this earth. Not just because we have a duty to the planet, to those less fortunate than ourselves, or to weaker creatures that need our protection, but because I can.

I am what I am… I do bang my own drum, I am not ashamed. Life is a gift, taking it for granted leaves us all poorer in spirit.

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