Don’t you just hate it when people look at your tattoos, shake their head knowingly and say “you’ll regret that one day”? On the other hand, some tattoos are just never a good idea, and that is why a lot of responsible artists will refuse to tattoo certain symbols and imagery on their clients.
At the end of last week a firestorm of controversy engulfed a Russian opera singer who had made the unfortunate decision to get neo-Nazi imagery tattooed on his body, although he said he didn’t realise this was what the symbols meant.
Bass baritone Evgeny Nikitin pulled out of a scheduled performance at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany – where he was meant to sing the lead in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman – after photos emerged of his provocative body art.
It is illegal to display the Nazi version of the swastika in Germany anyway, and what made this guy’s situation even more awkward in relation to this performance was that Wagner himself was an anti-Semite and his family had connections to the Third Reich.
The offending tattoos were a swastika on the singer’s chest and a ‘life rune’: a symbol used by an SS eugenics project which tried to create a ‘racially pure’ Aryan breeding programme. In his defence, Nikitin said he got the work done when he was much younger and did not understand the significance of the images. Describing the tattoos as “a big mistake”, he said he had chosen them from a book about Nordic mythology in the tattoo studio, and for him they had spiritual rather than political significance.
There is a strong movement in some parts of the tattoo community to reclaim the swastika, because many people don’t understand the difference between the Nazi symbol of hatred, which is right facing and rotated, and the auspicious sign of goodness which has been part of many Indian religions for thousands of years. Xed Le Head and co at Divine Canvas, as well as Manwoman are among those trying to reverse the demonisation of this important symbol. Manny is a brilliant guy, and has been hailed by some as the founding father of the swastika movement.
Hopefully the story of the opera singer will bring this issue back into the spotlight.
This also raises some interesting questions about how far it is a tattoo artist’s responsibility to ensure a customer doesn’t get a tattoo which makes a statement they might one day wish to retract. Most tattooists I have asked about this said they would always refuse to tattoo offensive imagery or anything that made them uncomfortable, but obviously, what is classed is offensive is highly subjective.
Tattooists, what are your hard limits when it comes to the work you are prepared to do? I’d love to hear your views on this.
My name is Hannah Smith and I am a regular contributor to Tattoo Revolution Magazine, and now I blog for Tattoosday UK, as long as you dear readers don’t run me out of town! I am on the hunt for ideas for future blog posts so please send me your pics, news, views, whatever to firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ hannah_fran_ink