Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Tattoos, Beauty and Matriarchal Power

"Tattoos were a symbol of matriarchal power." 
Yumna Al-Arashi

“I remember the moment my Yemeni grandmother scorned my aunts and cousins for making fun of my tattoo. The room fell silent. She said that by insulting me, I was also insulting her mother, and all of the women who came before her. Soon after, she shared faded photographs of my great-grandmother, who was beautifully adorned with lines and geometric patterns all over her face. My grandmother told me, ‘There was a love of individuality that my mother took in pride. I thought it was lost, but now I see her in you.’”
Yumna Al-Arashi

Yumna Al-Arashi was inspired by the story of her late great-grandmother and started searching for and photographing the probably last generation of women with facial tattoos in North Africa. The main reasons why these tattoos are vanishing are the spread of Western ideals of beauty - what was one beautiful is seen as weird and backwards by younger generations - and Islam which prohibits permanent changes to the body (via). In Algeria, there is also the "French Myth" according to which tattoos protected Algerian women from French soldiers by making them unattractive in Western eyes (via).
"The custom, once prevalent throughout the Middle East and North Africa, dates back thousands of years. (...) In large part, the appeal is aesthetic. Young daughters admired their mothers’ tattoos and yearned to one day get their own, just as Western girls count down the days until they can apply lipstick like their mothers. The designs themselves held rich symbolism, communicating connectedness to the earth and the fruits it produced, as well as the cosmos that made it so. Certain images also carried spiritual powers, including the ability to protect oneself and one’s loved ones from evil spirits.(...)Women, for the most part, stopped tattooing their faces and bodies in the 1930s and 1940s. Some elderly women with tattoos have since opted to remove them because of the religious connotations. The ever-shrinking remaining generation of women bearing the traditional ink are now in their 70s and older." Priscilla Frank

“I wanted these tattoos for as long as I could remember I wanted them to show my beauty, to highlight it. Every beautiful woman had tattoos. They symbolize my power, my beauty, and my ability to connect to the Earth. It’s something I’m so proud of.”
A woman

Photograph above:
“I have the stars and the moon on my cheeks. They’re the most beautiful things my eyes have seen. I don’t know how to read or write and I don’t have any devices like you, but I know my land and my Earth, the stars and moon help me navigate it. That’s why I’m here.”
Brika, Tunisia

photographs via