photo by Joshua Tang

Text by Candice Lee for hype magazine

My body is a journal in a way. It’s like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist.
Johnny Depp, actor

6 hours of enduring multiple needles scratching onto raw skin, 2 weeks of healing time, and a cost of $500.

That is the price of Mr Darrell Yang’s black and white portrait tattoo of his daughter on his forearm.

Mr Yang, 28, a merchandise retailer, found that he was not contented with simply a photograph of his two-year-old daughter, Alexis, in his wallet.

“I needed a way to have her closer to me because I go overseas so often for work,” he said to explain his decision of having Alexis’ smiling face permanently copied from his favourite photograph of her onto his skin in a beautiful portrait.

He’s not alone.

Many Singaporeans believe that engraving memories onto their bodies is the best way of immortalising them. The success of the first Singapore Tattoo Show attests to that.

There is no “underground” community, no dark den of drunken sailors initiating themselves into manhood via cheap, ill-conceived exercises in bodily perforation; it’s just a group of people who delight in using their bodies as billboards.
Joanne McCubrey, writer

Using your bodies as billboards for immortalising memories is not 21st century idealism.

Originating from the Tahitian word, tatau, its history dates back centuries ago. What began as symbols of religion gradually evolved to become marks of social identity and then as a means of body art.

During medieval times, tattooing was performed as a rite of passage, indicating status and rank. Tattoos were also signs of religious and spiritual devotion, bravery, fertility, love, punishment and protection. Tattoos were the mark of an outcast, slave and convict. It was used to brand Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust, bestowing upon them an inferior status in society. Sailors from Europe used to have the picture of the crucifixion of Christ tattooed on their backs for protection and also as a form of identification.

Nowadays, the essence of tattooing is body art, with the body becoming a canvas. Though slowly straying away from religious and social factors, it is undeniable that tattoos are now done largely for sentimental reasons.

Be it the piety for religion, a sense of belonging or an abstract visual of what represents you, your feelings play a big part in influencing your choice of tattoo.

Tattoos are like stories; they’re symbolic of the important moments in your life. Sitting down, talking about where you got each tattoo and what it symbolises, is really beautiful.
Pamela Anderson, actress


photo by Joshua Tang

Sean Tan, a 23-year-old design student, has an abstract representation of her family tattooed on her right calf. It depicts the flight of a sparrow surrounded by 5 stars, each symbolising a member of her family, and engulfed by a ring of yellow flames.

“The yellow flame holds the stars together while the sparrow beneath it signifies a peace and happiness I hope for my parents. Overall, it represents family bonding,” she said.


photo by Joshua Tang

Blending into this picture of hope, on the other side of her calf, is a huge lotus. A symbol of faith, it reminds her of the teachings of Buddhism – that which encompasses tranquility and patience, and her loyalty to her creed.

While some tattoos symbolise closeness, others express regret. “Think before you ink” – that is the oft-quoted advice from experienced tattoo artists before committing.

Some who get tattooed on impulse may end up regretting. As Richard Jeni, an American
stand-up comedian, puts it, “I see a woman with a tattoo, and I’m thinking, okay, here’s a girl who’s capable of making a decision she’ll regret in the future.”

Miss Eunice Yeo, a 25-year-old marketing executive, recalled, “I tattooed my first boyfriend’s name on my lower back when I was 18 and I regretted it after we broke up. But there’s nothing I can do about it so I told myself that it was an act of young, foolish love. It reminds me of the days when I was crazy and irrational. Back then, love was the only thing that kept me sane.”

Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.
Jack London, author

A tattoo is a poetic creation: it tells stories. When an artist interprets a narrative and pens it into a visual, the image moves the author. A shade of privacy and intimacy engulfs the picture and translates into a story that cannot be understood by others.

If tattoos are unable to tell a story that involves you emotionally, they’re merely for decoration. There’s no doubt that some body art is meant to complement the body canvas but when there’s emotional appeal, they tell people what you are and what you believe in.

After all, beauty is skin deep, but tattoos go all the way to the bone.

3 Things to Note Before Going Under the Needle

Sidebar by: Eunice Li

1. Research your tattoo artist
The difference between a tattoo and a really amazing tattoo is the artist, so ask to see examples of the artist’s portfolio before you make the all-important decision.
 Some things to look out for in the portfolio include:
Line work – Are the edges smooth?
Shading – Do the colours blend well to create depth and dimension?

2. Know the risks
Besides the physical agony of going under the needle, you also run the risk of allergies and transmittable diseases. To minimise the dangers involved, make sure the tattoo artist sterilises his or her equipment before inking.

3. Tattoos are for life
According to Times Record News, 1 out of 4 adults in America sport at least 1 tattoo, but the same study shows 17 percent regret going under the needle and are considering tattoo removal procedures.

Sure, tattoos are acceptable in this day and age, but if you have a public image to maintain (for example, in your job or college) it’s best you get something discreet. After all, you don’t want to spend 20 minutes every morning covering your tattoo with foundation.

Also, before you decide to ink the picture of your dead pet on your forearm, do consider the consequences – what is your new pet going to think?