Young Iranians defy tattoo taboo.
Tehran, Iran – A face hauntingly peering through a mirror surrounded by black. a lady with a skeleton hand protruding from her mouth. A skull with a vibrant knife lodged in it.
These aren’t images you’d normally find on display in galleries across Tehran, or anywhere else in Iran.
But a gaggle of artists put together a display of these artworks, alongside others, as a part of a personal gallery dedicated to paintings done by tattoo artists.
“We wanted this art show to firstly be a warning call for local tattoo artists so as for them to focus more on their art, and to remind them that an honest tattoo artist must have a robust background in art,” said Farshad Mirzaei, the chief organiser of the event.
The 28-year-old, himself a tattoo artist for nearly 10 years, told Al Jazeera the event was also aimed toward addressing the lingering perception by parts of society that folks who have tattoos aren’t normal, and tattoo artists could also be even worse.
“We wanted to point out that tattoo artists aren’t criminals. They’re artists, they’re philanthropists, and that they want to advance this industry in Iran a bit like other countries,” he said, remarking that the proceeds from the gallery are going to be donated to charity.
There are not any specific laws on tattoos in Iran, in order that they aren’t officially considered criminal activity.
A number of prominent Shia marjas – Islamic sources of emulation – have said tattoos aren’t “haram”, or forbidden, by shariah , unless they depict “obscene” imagery.
“Tattooing isn’t haram and therefore the trace it leaves under the skin doesn’t block the flow of water, so wuzu and ghusl with it are correct,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in regard to the Islamic practices of washing the body before prayers.
However, tattoos are generally frowned upon by officials who see them as a Western phenomenon, and pictures of offenders with tattoos are aired by state broadcasters numerous times.
Having tattoos could also prevent people from obtaining or renewing their driver’s licenses as body marks might be construed as signs of psychological state issues.
But despite all the restrictions and stigma, tattoos are getting increasingly popular in Iran, especially among its tens of many under-30s people, and more artists also are taking over the ink in response to rising demand.
‘A leap of faith’
Mirzaei operates FLESH, a studio in downtown Tehran where he accepts clients, and where he also sells – online and in-person – tattoo equipment, and items of clothing that feature custom artwork, including calligraphy-based art.
He said tattoo art equipment, including a spread of tattoo guns and inks, are imported into the country as health and wonder products.
But a battered national currency that has been significantly devalued within the past three years thanks to all-encompassing us sanctions and native mismanagement, means artists effectively spend money on equipment in dollars but earn their pay in rials.
Partly for this reason, Mirzaei said he still doesn’t receive full support, even from his family, despite having passionately dedicated years of his life to the present craft.
“My father still sometimes asks me, ‘Don’t you would like to seek out employment ?’ They still don’t hold the view that tattoo art are often a job, something you’ll dedicate your life to,” he said.
“So those that roll in the hay take a leap of religion . But, fortunately, we’ve had some successful artists and we’ve seen that it’s possible to possess good achievements.”
Mirzaei said there are many talented Iranian tattoo artists who should be supported locally and have the chance to participate in international tattoo conventions and make a reputation for themselves.
That, he said, are often done within the framework and red lines of an Islamic society.
“Why should of these talents waste away? Why shouldn’t they be seen the way they need to be seen?” he said.
‘It might be dangerous’
In absence of formal recognition, and thanks to risks related to an activity that would be considered illicit by authorities, some artists prefer to move to other countries.
Some attend neighbouring countries like Turkey that provide a more hospitable working environment, and also traditionally attract an outsized number of tourists who could boost business.
Twenty-year-old Ava Azad wants to form a career out of tattoo art. She started two years ago, first through the assistance of a lover then through self-teaching.
She told Al Jazeera she is getting to move to Germany soon to advance her tattoo work and art studies after initially pursuing theatre acting and set design.
“There are tons of restrictions here. Especially on behalf of me as a woman , it could even be dangerous,” she said.
Azad said she has been fortunate to not have anything bad happen to her, but her friends have found themselves in dangerous situations before, so she is afraid albeit her family supports her work and she or he accepts clients reception .
“I even don’t accept tons of the clients due to this. the strain of it’s really gotten to me,” Azad said.
“For instance, a number of the clients come to my house and first i’m going right down to watch them from a distance to form sure it’s not the police or someone who is simply pretending to be a client.”
That fear extends to social media and every one promotion of her work as she is additionally worried that being seen an excessive amount of could bring unwarranted attention.
Nevertheless, she supports the gallery – where she also displayed a couple of of her artworks – and similar efforts that artists hope could legitimise their craft as a legitimate industry in Iran.
“I think this is often a very positive thing and that i hope there’ll be more like this because we haven’t really had displays like this in Iran specifically dedicated to tattoo art,” she said.