Making your mark: The world's most bizarre tattoos

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It used to be a sign of spirituality or a symbol of your clan. Now, the tattoo is just a way to make a statement. And the more unusual – or embarrassing – the better

On 11 December 1787, part of a French naval fleet led by Commodore Comte de la Perouse became stranded in shallow waters off the northern coast of Tutuila, in the South Pacific. The sailors had set off from Brest two years earlier, on a tempestuous voyage to Australia; as they reached the area now known as American Samoa, the sailors started to search for a piece of land on which to lay their flag.

But for many of the would-be colonists, the journey came to a fatal end. The sailors attempted to step ashore not far from where their marooned vessel had landed when a band of natives attacked, leaving many of the men dead on the beach. Those who survived later described their aggressors as a band of strange looking creatures, their skin adorned with elaborate geometric designs, giving the men the appearance of being clothed, though they were in fact.........  f naked. Some years earlier, Captain Cook noted similar markings adorning the skin of indigenous tribes of the Marquesas Islands. These instances were the first recorded sightings of the "tatu" – a Haitian term meaning "to mark" – and what was for the people of Polynesia an ancient practice with a deep cultural significance. The markings were said to represent a person's spiritual being, to indicate one's social status and herald an allegiance to a specific belief system.

While sailors returning from the South Pacific are said to have brought this Polynesian tradition back to Europe, there is evidence of body art in Britain as far back as the 6th century within ancient Celtic culture. Clansmen inscribed their skin with various knot-like symbols – using a blue plant extract known as woad – as a tribal emblem. In Africa and South America, too, tattoos have long been used as a badge of identity.

Today in Britain, tattoos remain a popular signifier of allegiance, taste and culture. In fact, they have never been more prevalent in our Western culture. We now have a number of genres to speak of, and each fulfils an important social function. Among the most popular is the "partner" tattoo. With these, a person permanently inscribes the name of their lover on to a (usually very visible) piece of their flesh. An indelible way of saying "I'm yours", the tattoo can also serve as a memento of happy times, to be cherished once the relationship has irreparably broken down. Then there are Asian symbols: Chinese, Japanese, Nepalese – it doesn't matter, as long as the tattoo (apparently) means "Om" or "Tiger" and it is done on a beach in Thailand – or in Camden Market. These scream "life-experience".

Finally, there are those belonging to the "other" category, like the ones exhibited on these pages. These include the "Swayzaur" – a tuxedo-wearing Patrick Swayze depicted as a Centaur – and the "I'm Gonna Kill You, Ray Romano" promise, not to mention a handless arm adorned with a tattooed fingernail, or a game of Pac-Man etched on to a man's posterior. All of these spectacular creations are part of a series showcased in a book which claims to examine "the greatest development of human artistic expression: the objectively awful tattoo".

'No Regrets: The Best, Worst & Most #$%*ing Ridiculous Tattoos Ever' by Aviva Yael & P M Chen is published by Little, Brown. To order a copy at the special price of £11.69, including postage and packing, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?