Tumblr Tattoos


      Many different cultures in different era’s in our history used the art of tattooing as a way to create a meaningful body decoration. Sailors collected the inked illustrations as souvenirs of their trips to show how many journeys they had been on. In Buddhistic and shamanism beliefs, tattoos function to give protection, luck and mystical power.

      Today we consider tattoos to be personal. They tell something about the lives we live, the people we love and the individuals we are. At first glance it looks like tattoos have changed of meaning through time, though when we look close enough there is a new functionality in our modern tattooing to be found, showing parallels to ancient body art practice.

      Viral tattoos

      Blogging, bloggers, blogposts, an undeniable part of modern media. All us individuals use some kind of online place of expression to exhibit, ideas, fascinations, personality, style, taste and our way of being a consumer. One of the most used platforms for blogging would be Tumblr. This channel is mostly used to show a all-you-can-scroll collection of modern and intimate images, posted by the blogger in attempt to show their true-self. (Severijns, 2013) Images used on these blogs seem to lose their connection to any authorship. Once in de ocean of internet information, it’s ownership is somewhere between big data and the blogger. From there on it’s easy for the image to go viral and appear and reappear on a endless count of pages. It’s like these circulating picture start to form a universal shared vocabulary of the bloggers.

      Among these viral images is a reasonable amount of tattoo imagery being spread through these personal pages. Tiny aesthetic tattoos or tattoos of popular themes are shared among style-sensitive bloggers. Who then, inspired on their blog, get a similar looking tattoo done at the tattoo shop. Like their like-minded bloggers do as well. Ending up with the kind of ink that has been named ‘Tumblr-tattoo’ by the artists themselves. (nieuwe generatie tattoeëerders, 2013) And physically get connected to their digital network for, ever.

      Belonging to a modern tribe

      Now this doesn’t has to be a negative thing, actually it could be the opposite. These physical connections to our like-minded others is giving us the fulfilment of our desire to belong. Belonging to these specific groups we are connected with, and form a part of our identity.

      In our contemporary networked society the term connected is of big significance. Over the past few years we have changed the way we use the one thing that makes us connected these days, the internet. No longer is the web a massive database of information in which we share thing with the world. Mass media and internet have allowed silos of interest to exhibit and organise themselves on the web which we can connect with (The tribes we lead, 2009). O’Connor argues in his article ‘The new groupies’; we are situated in a time whereas the communities we belonged to were defined by notions as simplistic as where we sleep at night, increasingly they will come to reflect our complex individuality. (2012: 57) Connecting with people we share interests with is in my opinion not about creating a community, but a way of belonging our own tribe. Using the term seems like quiet the jump; from Facebook to aboriginal tribes but when we take a closer look we can find remarkable similarities. On network websites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Tumblr people are shaping their identities by exhibiting their relationships to each other. (Mensvoort, K. 2011) Belonging in a group and the people you are connected with has become a way for us to create and wear out identity; a similar way of constructing identity in tribes.

      The modern Tribal body

      Now there is another similarity to be found between tribes and our way of networking and how this is interrelated to our identity. These Tumblr tattoos have made the connections we have to our online tribes move from the web onto the body. On the body they tell a story of who we are and where we belong to, a similar functionality as the body art found in ancient or aboriginal tribes. The Tumblr tattoos have created a contemporary way of using tattooing to create meaningful body decoration, making the skin a personal imprint of where we belong to and created the modern tribal body.


      Mensvoort, K. (2012) Next nature. New York: Actar.

      nieuwe generatie tattoeëerders, 2013 [Online]. Available from: http://bogue.nl/nieuwe-generatie-tatoeeerders/ [Accessed 15 January 2013]

      O’ Connor, M. (2012) The new groupies. Viewpoint magazine, 28, 56-59.

      Severijns, E. (2013) Aynouk Tan Tumblr.com [Online]. Huis voor Beeldcultuur, 29 January. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/huisvoorbeeldcultuur [accessed 28 December 2013]

      The tribes we lead. (2009) [Online]. Available from: http://www.ted.com/talks/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead.html [Accessed 18 January 2013]