Carnival and color: The influence of tattoo shop experiences on tattoo choices




Nowlin, Sanford B.

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Tattoos have moved beyond symbols of rebellion and resistance in America, evolving into mainstream body ornamentation. Many researchers conclude that the pervasive nature of tattoos in American culture signify the art form has shifted from a period of artistic renaissance into a period of commoditization, raising significant questions about the changing meaning of tattoo. By conducting an ethnographic examination of one tattoo parlor serving multiple generations of tattoo enthusiasts, this research project examines the role of the tattoo shop as a place of agency for those seeking tattoos. Observations of the shop and interviews with artists and patrons reveal that by balancing contrasts---danger and safety, hygiene and clutter, high art and low art, tradition and innovation---the tattoo shop becomes a place of learning, negotiation, self-expression, and self-creation for clients seeking a place in a world constantly in quest for meaning. Through their interactions with shop artists, customers engage in individual agency by selecting symbols that represent permanence, choice, identity, empowerment, and control. Resistance to dominant social norms remains a key component in the narratives many tattooed people wish to convey through their body art, although the form this resistance takes may vary generationally.


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body modification, carnival, resistance, tattoo artists, tattoo shops, tattoos