Persian Body Art - A Modern Form of Iranian self expression
by: Amir Nadimi
As the fad of tattooing has grown largely in Western culture and throughout the world so
has Persian Body Art. Over the course of the last decade, one ethnicity has taken the
opportunity to express themselves beyond the generic tribal or Celtic designs found around
the arms of young men and women and celebrities alike.
Iranians (historically known as Persians) have also been in this growing mainstream
phenomena of body art and tattooing. However, a significant difference lies in the way
Iranians have decided to express themselves. A blend of history, culture, language
symbolized on the body of young Iranians prevails. The hegemon and most dynamic of all
early civilizations, Iranians are now going against what was once culturally unacceptable
forms of expression by wearing their national and historical pride in the deepest layers of
Cultural Pride or breaking with tradition ?
If you were young and recall ever mentioning the word tattoo or even suggesting it, it was immediately met with a disgruntled look on the face of
your parents followed by a response like "Son, only prisoners and homosexuals get tattoos in our culture". I don't know about other Iranian
families, but most families in the diaspora at large may have left their native Iran, but sure carried over and worked to instill all of the noble and
acceptable modes of behavior significant and sometimes unique to Iranian culture. Ceremonial politeness (ie: ta'arof), being well mannered
and academic excellence are all things that ring in our ears. What about tattooing ? Or even body piercings for that matter ? Well times sure
I remember when I got my first tattoo a decade ago, I did it for my own reasons. I did it to mark a period in my life and to mark ideals close to my
heart. Although my tattoo was not necessarily linked to my native heritage, it still had a tremendous significance to me nonetheless and so the
decision to go through with it. When I first went to my mother's house for dinner and casually mentioned that I had gotten a tattoo, her
immediate reaction was to pick up a kleenex and wet it with saliva with the intent of "rubbing away" my freshly inked Che Guevara tattoo in
disbelief. Luckily for me, we had some cool Lebanese dinner guests over at the time and my torment went no further.
Forever inked in the Iranian psyche
Youth in Iran and the diaspora at large are sporting 'Persian Pride' on their skin like a badge of honour. Pre-Islamic Persian symbols such as
the 'Farvahar' , Shir-o-Khorshid (Lion and the Sun) or even the ancient Indo-Aryan symbol of 'well being' the " Su - Hasti -Ka" bastardized and
exploited by Hitler's Germany ealrier this century (aka Swaztika) have been inked on the bodies of young Iranian men and even women. This
ethno-nationalist pride also extends to Iran's homogeneously Shia identity in the form of Arabic scriptures in Persian caligraphy, names of
Prophets such Ali and Hossein and even images of the late Ayatollah Khomeini himself.
In the end, it is a paradox of modern times and trends in style and fashion. The Art of tattooing is as old as time itself, however not a very
significant part of Iranian history. Hence, we use these newly enculturated means to bring out our history into the modern world and let it shine
and let it be known to one and all. Where the "First Charter of Human Rights" was written, where the first monotheistic religion evolved, where
the largest Empire the world had ever known expanded and where the cradle of Islamic Arts and theology still thrive.
We are building a new tradition founded on our old traditions to keep our identity distinct, unique and forever alive.
Art or 'in your face' nationalist fervour ?
Which ever way you want to view it, Iranian nationalism is at its pinnacle these days. Whether you are for the
regime in Iran or against it, one message remains the same. Persian pride is at its highest it has ever been.
Iranian unity in the face of western hostility in the Middle East has left the U.S. State department and
Pro-Israeli lobbyists scratching their heads. Invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent illegal occupation and
war measures in Iraq was meant to be a gateway for 'regime change' in Iran. Unfortunately, America's
incompetence in handling their own fiasco in the region reeks of total ignorance of history and cultural
understanding. On that same note, The United States' shameful 18 year long conflict in Vietnam also reeked
of sheer ignorance of Vietnamese perseverance. Unlike the civil war between the Vietnamese, Iranians on
the other hand have ALWAYS stood united in the face of aggression. It's a historical fact. If the Neo-Cons
really did their homework, perhaps their entire campaign wouldn't be a blundering mess. No matter what
creed or tribe or political affiliation. Not a single Iranian whether inside or outside the country would ever
tolerate an attack on their country.