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Wholeness & Wellness Journal
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Volume 29 Issue 2
July/August 2023

The Wild Harvest, How Nature Provides

Gone Swimming: The Manitou Waters Whole Body – Whole Mind Healing Arts Spa Retreat

Energetic Gardening and Spiritual Cultivation

RAPID™ for Pain

When Diet and Exercise Aren’t Working: A Single Question

The Art of Sound Bathing

Autonomous Taboo: The Art of Tattoo and the Feminine


Autonomous Taboo: The Art of Tattoo and the Feminine
by Colleen A. J. Smith
Colleen A. J. Smith

The feminine body has been depicted throughout history as a sacred site, a pillar of strength, nurturing, protection, and ceremony—a vessel within and through which humanity’s epic narrative is created, kept, nourished, cherished, and passed on through the centuries. Without its intuitive nature, gestural intimacy, and its power to perpetuate life, there would be no tangible record of the great beauty of humankind, nor any story of the evolution of the universal community. The essence of the feminine exists within the presence of the body and its unique gestural language. Our bodies, what we do with them, how we use them, and how we choose to represent them to the world are a visceral record of our cultural, spiritual, and creative evolutionary existence.

The art of tattoo, its historical roots and its epic, yet mysteriously shrouded history are undoubtedly linked with the feminine on a fundamental level. In spite of its existence in Western civilization as we know it today, the art of tattoo is a distinctly feminine form of creative language. It has been cultivated, kept alive, and protected by the feminine, who throughout history have been identified as the great gatekeepers of the body and all its sacral rites.

We see this in all cultures across the globe. The first evidence of ancient tattoo as ceremony were symbols adorned on the bodies of priestesses, found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs, accompanying their leaders with their bodily wisdom into the afterlife. Women of Polynesia, Indo-Europe, and Japan adorned themselves with the sacral markings which signified their crossing of the threshold into the ripe nature of womanhood. The art of tattoo and its connection to the feminine goes way beyond what we on the surface may view it as today, through the typical Western practice.

Without much provocation, the conventional associations connecting the feminine and the art of contemporary tattooing almost always bring up images of tragic camp and elaborate fetishizations regarding the female body. We more commonly think of the brash and often poorly done war-time tattoos of pin-ups exhibiting the signature red lips, high heels, dimples, boobs, and butts in poses meant to console the lonely soldier and sailor in times of sexual scarcity and fear. These iterations, curated to titillate the male gaze have cultivated a timeless and integral style of tattooing in contemporary Western culture. 

The American Traditional tattoo style undoubtedly exacerbates the binaries of the female form, but arguably also fetishizes and indignifies all number of othered groups, including ethnic and sexual minorities. These groups are made to conform to their body as passive objects either of beauty, ironic humour, or shock taboo.

But the connection between the feminine body and tattoo is meant to be seen, recognized, and celebrated as so much more than sexy heels, two dots for a nose, and bunny ears.

It is a connection that provides the ethos of mystery, spirituality, performative ceremony, adornment, and so much more. It is a sacred practice for which we have the feminine to thank for its perpetuity, its strength in connecting humans directly to their bodies, their stories, their art, and their own body’s gestural language.

The feminine’s bodily influence of tattoo is rapidly changing the industry. Anyone who resonates with tattoos through a feminine lens is now able to find a voice of support and empowerment within the tattoo industry, where previously only a patriarchal lens dominated.

This is in part due to how the feminine narrative is evolving through the global trends of bodily autonomy through fourth-wave feminism. This movement is an integral way in which women’s bodies are changing the socio-political landscape. 

And the presence of tattoo art within these bodily narratives is expanding the concept of its ceremony and thus the art form itself. This is done mainly through self-expression on the fluid platforms of social media, and its integration within our daily communication.

It is no coincidence that this movement has sparked unprecedented courage when it comes to claiming one’s own body in its full expression, and this courage is transforming the art of tattoo, through how we choose to tell our stories through the art form across all of these platforms.

Our bodies are an expression of who we are, what we aspire to be, who we choose to become. They are a visible record of our intuitive identities that we cannot and should not hide from the world. Our bodies are our stories. Our stories are our identities. When we become a visible manifestation of our own unique narrative and choose to unapologetically embody that space, our identities become a fixed proponent of the epic cycle of human nature. We possess a visual record of the perpetual existence of humankind as told through the lens of our bodies. And one of the greatest filters of this lens for the feminine in the 21st century in all of its empowering glory is the art of tattoo. 

Colleen A. J. Smith is an artist, writer, and tattooist. She endeavours to explore concepts of love, humanity, and autonomy within her creative practices. She holds a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Drawing and Creative Research from the University of Calgary. Her work has been exhibited in numerous galleries throughout Western Canada and Europe. She currently practices the fine art of intuitive tattoo at Mama Tried Tattoosmith in Saskatoon, Sk. Instagram: @colleenajsmith, Website: www.colleenajsmith.art.


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