Inked: Marking Identity

I find explorations into the concept of identity intriguing. Identity is complex, and there are so many variables which constitute individuality. Some of the variables playing into identity can be inked in vibrant colors, or even gray scale. These marks are often dismissed and may be seen as nothing more than novelty, however, it is time for those dismissing to take a closer look. As portions of society slowly awaken from and shun restricting stereotypes, more people are opting to become carriers of ink. I love it when I see intellectuals rocking symbolic pieces. The puncture marks have stained the skin, but are a reflection of the what is beneath the skin. A tattoo is communicative, it can tell people: who you are; where you have been; what you find important; who you have loved and who you hate (if it has been removed or covered); where you are from; as well as mistakes you have made and achievements you are proud of. These signs or visual messages are created to “mark (a person or a part of the body) with an indelible design by inserting pigment into punctures in the skin.”

***Felicia’s Wizard Tattoo by Leo Gonzales***
I went to school with Leo and I graduated with
his brother Frankie. Leo and I were in art class
together for many years. I always loved his dark
art. I have had this tattoo for many years and I
love wizard imagery. When I decided I wanted
this marking, there was no question that it would
be by Leo. I think he is still in Albuquerque, New
Mexico if you are looking for a superb artist
to ink you up! Visit his web site at:

In 1874, a London newspaper had a typescript of what appeared to be a criminal case. The Hour News report noted the following: “I understand that your Lordship was at Stonyburst with Roger Tichborne, and that during that time he had tattooed on his arm Faith, Hope, and Charity. The family were aware that he was tattooed; and if you could ascertain when and by whom he was so tattooed it would tend to settle the question.” The tattoo played a major role in the arguments for this case. In this case not only the identification(s) of the wearer were important, but the identity of the artist was also in question.

1874- Newspaper
Transcript of a Criminal Case in The Hour News of London

The lovely Pacific arts include the “patterned” and “permanently coloured” skin of the Māori which is “high relief incised and scarified.” At a 2002 symposium of the National Māori Graduates of Psychology, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku presented a paper titled Ta Moko: Culture, body modification, and the psychology of identity. In this paper, the author cites a work from 1921 which reads “Taia o moko, hai hoa matenga mou. Of your moko, you cannot be deprived. Except by death. It will be your ornament, and your companion, until your last day.” When we talk about where we are from or who we are, the markings of the Māori are critical. According to Awekotuku’s paper, the 1840 “Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the many (but not all) Māori chiefs, and the British Crown. It is significant that a number of the signatories actually chose to inscribe the document with a small pattern from their facial moko, this subtle glyph effectively conveying their mana, or chiefly authority, to the process. Other legal instruments, particularly land deeds, were similarly authorized. Within a few years of its signing, the settlers breached the treaty, and decades of conflict, aggression, distrust, atrocity, and invasion ensued. The tattooed face became a powerful symbol of resistance for many Māori, whereas for others it seemed in decline.” Today, the “contemporary realities” of the Ta moko – Māori tattoo “manifests pride, celebration, and identity.”

In 2007, Emilio Mordini and Corinna Ottolini published a white paper titled Body identification, biometrics and medicine: ethical and social considerations. A section of the paper was devoted to “Personal Identification and the Body.” The authors say that “the human body lies at the heart of all strategies for identity management, from Homer to globalization. It is obvious because for most people a sense of personal identity includes an embodied component: when describing themselves they describe those aspects of their physical bodies which can be easily codified: height, hair colour, sex, eye colour.” I found it very interesting to read that they understand the fact that “body requires mind.” They even go as far as to call “the human body” a “language and a fundamental means of communication” by recognizing and receiving “communication directly from other bodies, allowing posture, gesture, and imagery to develop as alternative means of transmitting knowledge and feeling of various states of being.”

Last but not least, Mary Kosut called tattoos “ a form of visual communication created within a multiplicity of contexts” in her study titled Tattoo Narratives: The Intersection of the Body, Self-Identity and Society. In the paper from 2000, she discusses the “personal and social aspects of embodied storytelling” relative to the markings. I love that she argues “that the tattooed body is a distinctively communicative body.” Like Kosut, I agree that tattoos have “a great deal to say, not only about the identity of the wearer, but also about the culture in which she lives,” and that tattoos serve as a “conceptual latchkey—a tool that may enable researchers to begin to unlock the complicated relationship between the body, self‐identity and society.”

So who are you? Ink up!!!

Related Post:

Māori: Origins of a Warrior by Felicia Lujan_January 26, 2012


1874- Newspaper

Transcript of a Criminal Case in The Hour News of London

2000- White Paper

Tattoo Narratives: The Intersection of the Body, Self-Identity and Society by Mary Kosut, Visual Sociology, Vol. 15, Iss. 1

2002- White Paper

Ta Moko: Culture, body modification, and the psychology of identity by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, The Māori and Psychology Research Unit, University of Waikato, Proceedings of the National Māori Graduates of Psychology Symposium

2007- White Paper

Body identification, biometrics and medicine: ethical and social considerations by Emilio Mordini and Corinna Ottolini, Centro per la Scienza, la Società e la Cittadinanza (Rome, Italy), Ann Ist Super Sanità, Vol. 43, No.1

Explore posts in the same categories: Art, Articles, Artists, Authors, Body and Mind, Body Deco and Art, Pleasure and Pain, Pop Culture, Research Papers, Symbols and Imagery, Worthy Reads, Writers, Writing

2 Comments on “Inked: Marking Identity”

  1. […] to school with Leo Gonzales and graduated with his brother Frank. I hadn’t seen him since he designed this custom coverup for me many years ago. It’s time to bring the wizard’s magic around for some front delt […]

  2. […] Reinking Magic, Deposit on the Magic, Time for Fresh Ink, and Inked: Marking Identity for more about this particular […]

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