I was 17 and wanted a tattoo with meaning. The artist designed it for me, with wings signifying freedom, and one 'angel' looking more sad, the other happy. It is to signify that both types of experiences remain as a 'support' for me. That is also why it is placed on my lower back. Now I always feel supported in whatever I do.
My best friend and I used to have a lot of free time and we were out with nothing to do. We decided to mark the idleness we were experiencing by getting tattoos of no significant meaning. Having a tattoo of an everyday object that's half-heartedly sketched was funny to me because I imagined people tattooed things that were beautiful and/or significant, and this was anything but that. I got this tattoo in jest: chairs on my chest! In retrospect, this tattoo was also an act of showing that I wasn't daunted by the idea of permanence.
My parents are divorced, and my mom was raising me as a single parent. My mom is my best friend, and my rock. I tell her everything and she is extremely supportive of all my endeavours. I love her to bits and she's the most important person in my life. The illustration is actually based on a photo at a new year's eve party. I still had my curly hair then, it's not as curly now but I loved my curly hair when I was young. My mom and I went to the party at our relative’s home and it was such a wonderful memory. I chose to have this tattoo Cubist-style because I love the Cubist works of Picasso.
The first-ever tattoo I got was the 7-pointed star, a gift and approval from both my parents on my 21st birthday, when I was in a bad mental and emotional state. It is a compilation of traditional symbols that I have come across while researching beliefs, spirituality and life: a seven-pointed star, a line, a circle, a zigzag, a little triangle, II & III, and a dot. Although I am not completely drawn into any specific religion, I appreciate and adore the meaning given to these symbols in its various original contexts. Each tattoo is a reflection of my being presented into a visual form on my skin. It re-strengthens my beliefs and acts as a timestamp of where I am at physically, mentally and spiritually during the point of getting the tattoo, and more to come as I age. It represents an interconnection of life, death, natural elements, time and being human. Getting a tattoo is understanding what you truly want and making a choice for yourself, which is something that needs time and its own pace to accomplish. Overtime tattoos will start growing into the skin with age and change, but the purpose of it will still remain as clear as ever, that it serves as a personal reminder that only the self can understand.
I was meaning to have a tattoo for a while but I was also very picky about the design. One day in a movie, I saw a scene where Tinker Bell (the fairy from Peter Pan) was walking on a white surface with her muddy feet and leaving footprints. I really enjoyed this small pattern of footprints and decided to use them for the tattoo design. I was 22 and got this from Ruhsel, one of the oldest tattoo artists in Istanbul.
I was 22 and was leaving France. I was not happy living in Paris, and wanted to find my happiness elsewhere. This tattoo meant for me my big move from Europe to Asia, and my will to follow my own direction. It represents my turning my back on my country at the time, to navigate and somewhat control my future. I wanted my choice inked on my body and be fully part of myself. The shop does not exist anymore, but it was in Rue de la Roquette in Paris.
I was a young Communist. When I was 24, I lived on Rue St Andre des Arts in Paris, upstairs of a tattoo parlour, so of course I had to get a tattoo. The red star is more aesthetically pleasing to me than the hammer and sickle so I got this. Two years after, I was in San Francisco and got a new star tattooed on top of the first. Not many people know I have this tattoo because it is in a “secret” location on the back of my neck and I rarely tie my long hair up.
My partner's name means Lightning. The lightning symbol also signifies Intuition and Illumination for me. We both fell in love quite unexpectedly and quickly. I was 24 when we met, and everything shifted inside for me so I knew he was the One. He got a tattoo of the meaning of my name too. We had just finished a nice weekend lunch in Holland Village, walked past the tattoo parlour, and decided on the spot to get tattooed. It was one of the most impromptu things I have ever done!
After working a few years at my first job, my colleagues were getting branded handbags or new gadgets to celebrate, but it wasn't really my fancy so I collected a few tattoos instead. I guess it is also quite cathartic to get them. This was gotten when I was 25, after ending a serious relationship and simultaneously having a difficult time at work. The artist is Chun and he is based in Japan. I let him create it and only picked the colours (which I prefer not to reveal).
I was 27 and watched a lot of anime. I particularly loved the movies of Eiichi Yamamoto, and really admired the style and character of Belladonna from Belladonna of Sadness. So I decided to have it on my body forever.
This image is actually part of a painting of a fairy ring of mushroom people walking. It was a tribute to a mushroom fairy spirit who came to me when I was nearly 20, telling me I could get out of the deep depression I wasn’t able to see a way out. One evening I drank mushroom tea and a fairy spirit came and she stayed with me the whole night talking to me and telling me it was possible, I could do it. I did stop completely when I turned 21, and I got this tattoo 8 years later from an Indonesian tattoo artist who was visiting KL when I was still living with my then-boyfriend. The tattoo helped me to reclaim a sense of grounding, self-love and acceptance that I felt after participating in an intense 3-day healing retreat by the river in the jungle.
At 30, I have just given birth to my son, and was embracing motherhood, going back to work, and at the start of embarking on my business. Many changes were coming or I was already going through them and there was a sense of uncertainty. I did the tattoo to anchor myself and remind myself. The English line is from a song by India Arie which I love. The Japanese one is an idiom that means “perseverance is strength”, something I learnt when I was studying Japanese as a teenager. It was quite sudden actually. I've never felt like I needed a tattoo, but I thought this would be nice to die with.
I was an avid lover of H.R. Giger's works, especially Aliens. Infused with erotic and mechanical elements, it inhibits a very surreal landscape. I was in Switzerland in 2012, and visited the H.R Giger Museum. I would have loved to meet the master himself but unfortunately he passed away in 2018. There is a H.R. Giger bar beside the museum and the whole place was just so intricate. The table leg at that bar was engraved with this design and I was taken by it. This artwork was only seen there and I couldn’t find it in any of his paintings or in any publications. Which is why this leg work is one of my favourites.
I was 31 and just recovered from a serious illness. I wanted a permanent memory of what I just went through and I thought of the words and concept of this tattoo. My friend based in Denmark then did a free flow tattoo design from what I told him.
My first tattoo on my right shoulder blade always felt like a mistake after a bad breakup so I wanted to get another one that was more meaningful and aligned with the passion I wanted to commit to in life. It's like a reflection of my core love for sharks and serves as an unwavering reminder etched on me. I think tattoos are an expression of a deep commitment and a way of distinguishing one's identity.
When I was 31, I visited Nepal, and as a souvenir, I got this tattoo from Soonil from Xhead tattoo in Pokhara. I have 14 tattoos, and I like getting auspicious symbols of different cultures when I travel. I look forward to travelling again and getting more tattoos!
I have always loved owls, and especially the spotted wood owl, which is critically endangered in Singapore. I love the colours on its wings, body, the feathers and the barring. The eyes look focused and in concentration while at the same time, it seems like it isn’t really focusing on anything in particular - kind of like me on most days! I decided to get this tattoo on my left leg, after I found this image online.
For lifetimes, our ancestors used tattoos as rites of passage, part of sacred rituals and ceremonies, as part of marking transitions of the old that has been shed and the becomings that are emerging. Similarly, I chose the first tattoo as an act of empowerment; marking endings within and to set intentions to welcome in new possibilities. The second tattoo was a gift and it means “life is beautiful” — a phrase that has been meaningful to me for many years.
We knew we were nearing the end of the wondrous, simpler, early part of our relationship, which had been a magic, cosy world, full of care and imagination, that we were building from the depths of our earnest, romantic hearts. Things were to be complex from then on; I was moving away temporarily and my visa would run out the next year. We wanted to make a magic punctuation mark for ourselves. 爽 was our word. And the name of the band we were going to start. We marked each other one late summer night in my tiny apartment after a sweaty dinner, using sewing needles, ink, pencil, thread and alcohol swabs. For him, on the left bicep. For me, inside my pinky, like a secret shabby ring. I wanted it to be faded. That is how I like my tattoos — tattered, old, handmade, given through a friendship/love ritual. One day when I have healed enough, the character will mean for me the imaginative, lovely way we connected with each other artistically and interpersonally. I think tattoos are a way of letting out a deep energy or expression that hasn't had the space to emerge and be seen, a way of saying, "this is part of me. fuck you. I love you. peace to all.”
This is a close resemblance of the sense of buoyancy and pixies-silly-carefree-fun when my sister and I are together. We got this when we were in Melbourne together, as a reminder that no matter how far apart we are, we will always have each other. I am now back in Singapore while my sister lives abroad, but we remain as close as ever.
I already had 6 tattoos by the time I got this one. I wanted an old school design and I thought the matryoshka doll was a good symbol for all the different roles in my life. Especially as a mother, because I just had my daughter. At the same time, I also felt that inside the heart of every woman is a powerful and mythical monster who is at odds with the expectations of her always being stable and dependable.
“Gotta let it happen” is a line from the Paramore song “Last Hope”. I got this as a response to the difficult situation I was faced with at the time. I had my mind set on a tattoo experience so I wasn’t thinking of other options. I needed the pain and the healing, and the tattoo helped me deal with the sense of loss so that I could move on.
When I was 37, I had just come out from a difficult period in my life and I was looking for something to represent my spirit and soul. It was either “peace” or “freedom”. When I found this Arabic word for freedom, I knew it was the one I wanted and I got my makeup artist friend to make it into this beautiful tattoo on my right upper arm.
I have felt stuck in my life for a number of years. Not that I was unhappy but I often felt somewhat incomplete and not living my purpose. This tattoo marks a very important part of my life when I underwent a spiritual awakening and its intense transformative process. Getting a tattoo is one of my favourite ways to collect art. This artwork is a freehand painting from Lu Tattoo in Taipei.
This is a friendship tattoo that 8 artist friends decided to get together. The word is Burmese for “universe” and the tattoo artist is a Myanmar artist living in Yangon. With how things are going now, I really hope that he will be ok.
I got this handpoke tattoo as a birthday present to myself. In my 40s, I finally embrace my dreamy, restless and wild self, which in my previous 30 years I strove to ground and tame. I wanted a tattoo that represented that. I chose a cosmic traveller - a rabbit flying over a cloud, with star-flowers around me.
When I was 15, I wanted a Celtic Cross as the symbol has given me some comfort and assurance. But I couldn’t get it then because I couldn’t afford it and I was also afraid of being ridiculed. I was abused and had abandonment issues as a child, and I was suicidal. At 17, I left home, and throughout my adulthood, I have had an array of personality issues stemming from my childhood trauma. At 48, I was sued by my mother for maintenance, and the incident recalled all my past abuse which the psychiatrist diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With support from my brothers and friends, I faced my mother in the family court and told the judges how she had abused, neglected and abandoned me. The court threw the case out but while I won, I was unable to celebrate the victory. The past memories haunted me for many weeks after, but it also resurfaced the Celtic Cross. I decided to use this old design, even though there are other contemporary choices. I felt the need to go through the pain as a ritual. It is my first tattoo, and the pain was nothing compared to my past trauma. It actually gave me a feeling of liberation. When the tattooist completed the work, I felt relieved and whole.
This project began with an interest in the narratives connected with our bodies and our choices as women. Even though our bodies belong only to us, the society we live in constantly tries to determine and judge how women’s bodies should look and behave. Tattoos are still very much frowned upon yet many women are choosing to permanently mark their bodies with them. Taking place on the internet, this project is a coming together of the notions of women’s bodies as media and media as the collective body of women. The website combines the images and stories of the tattoos with related content from other websites and social media platforms, rendering a personal experience of body and media into a collective one.
Supported by: Created on the occasion of Media Body; body as media vs media as body, organised by Feminale and curated by Yeonjeong.