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The tats are out in Tel Aviv

Israel’s body ink culture gets uncovered at two events

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Chef Asaf Granit shows off his biceps and tatts for 'LOOK AT ME' (Courtesy Ron Kedmi)
Chef Asaf Granit shows off his biceps and tatts for 'LOOK AT ME' (Courtesy Ron Kedmi)

A host of recent events about body inking, including a photography exhibit featuring celebs and their tats and an Israel Tattoo Convention being held in Tel Aviv this weekend, point to the fact that Israelis like their tattoos.

Tattooing, said Dr. Anna Felicity Friedman, the self-described “tattoo historian” who was in Israel last spring to deliver a lecture about the history of tattooing, represents a type of permanence in the face of an ephemeral world.

“Few things stay with us like a tattoo (although even now with laser removal, they are not as permanent as they once were),” wrote Friedman in a recent email exchange. “I think in places like Israel, where there is a constant threat of violence and even death, having some sort of permanent anchor on one’s body is psychologically appealing.”

Comedian Orna Banai demurely unveils her tattoo in the photography exhibit, 'LOOK AT ME' (Courtesy Kfir Ziv)
Comedian Orna Banai demurely unveils her tattoo in the photography exhibit ‘LOOK AT ME’ (Courtesy Kfir Ziv)

That’s one way of looking at the tattoo exhibit “LOOK AT ME,” in which local fashion photographers show their work featuring Israeli celebrities who unveiled their inked skin for the show.

Viewers can see what Orna Banai, MK Tamar Zandberg, Chef Yisrael Aharoni, Elisha Banai, Ester Rada and others chose to tattoo on their skin as a symbol of self-expression. At the exhibit, all proceeds go to art center Knafaim, a non-profit for artists dealing with limitations of some kind.

At the same time, the Tattoo Convention is being held in Tel Aviv at the city’s Convention Center.

Friedman commented that she was “incredibly impressed” by the extent of tattoo culture in Israel, especially in Tel Aviv.

“It was hard to walk down the street without encountering someone with a large, visible tattoo,” she said.

“From my (and others’) research, tattooing isn’t necessarily prohibited in Judaism — there are many ways one can interpret, for example, the passage in Leviticus,” wrote Friedman, who also launched a foundation, The Center for Tattoo History and Culture, and whose book, “The World Atlas of Tattoo,” came out in 2015. “So more conservative Jews might interpret this as a prohibition on tattoos, but secular Jews don’t have to. And, of course, religions prohibit many things that people do anyway!”

Dr. Anne Felicity Friedman, a professor of tattoos and interdisciplinary culture, has a few ideas about why Israelis like their tatts (Courtesy Dr. Anne Felicity Friedman)
Dr. Anne Felicity Friedman, a professor of tattoos and interdisciplinary culture, has a few ideas about why Israelis like their tats (Courtesy Dr. Anne Felicity Friedman)

Itwill be a decidedly alternative crowd attending the tattoo convention, which features a freak show in addition to musical acts, tattoo shows and play piercings, in which more unusual parts of the body are pierced for show.

The convention is open to anyone (anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent), including those who want to collect a tattoo by one of the visiting tattoo artists, and those who just want to ogle.

Chef Janna Gur, photographed for the 'LOOK AT ME' exhibit (Courtesy Zohar Shitrit)
Chef Janna Gur, photographed for the ‘LOOK AT ME’ exhibit (Courtesy Zohar Shitrit)

Despite the popularity of tattoos, particularly among the younger set, Friedman commented that she is starting to meet people in their 20s in the US who are resisting tattoos, even though they would seem to be the types to collect one.

“Tattooing will always have appeal,” she said, “but I do think we may look back and see the early 21st century as one of the peaks in the ongoing ebb and flow of tattoo fashions over time.”

The “LOOK AT ME” exhibit is open through Monday, October 10. Hours are from 12 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Ken L’Omanut Gallery, 21 Rehov Ben Dosa, Jaffa.

Tickets for the Israel Tattoo Convention, held October 7 and 8, are available online at the convention website.

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