Tattoo culture in Egypt has a history that is not quite as well-known or talked about, perhaps in large part due to the fact that tattoos are considered a rather taboo subject in contemporary Egyptian society. To truly delve into how tattoo culture has evolved throughout Egyptian history, it is important to point out the fact that there has been evidence of its existence since ancient times. In fact, evidence of tattooing in Egypt has been found to span at least a 4,000 year period.
In ancient times, we have proof that humans also got tattooed through some examples – primarily women. Although the meanings behind these tattoos are debated, they might have been a reference to the person’s status or position within society – as priestesses, for example – or it could have been an embellishment technique. Essentially though, these tattoos are considered to have served some sort of spiritual or cultural purpose.
Fast forward into contemporary Egyptian society and one will now find less of an ‘outspoken’ tattoo culture. As a result of Egypt turning into more of a religiously led country, with a large Muslim population as well as a strong Coptic Christian population, tattooing is largely seen as taboo and against ‘social norms’ primarily due to it being seen as a sort of sin by Egypt’s religious community. That being said, however, tattooing is still traditionally found in certain demographics such as amongst Coptic Christians. Many Coptic Christian Egyptians tattoo crosses on their right wrists as a form of religious and spiritual identity. It is well known in Egyptian culture that when one sees a person with a tattooed right wrist, this is immediately translated into this person being a religious Coptic Christian. Aside from tattoos serving a purpose of religious or spiritual identity in contemporary Egyptian society, some tattoos also serve a purpose of cultural identity in some smaller Egyptian sects, such as for Nubians and certain communities in upper Egypt in which one will find women with traditional face tattoos.
Although not as widely accepted as tattoos that serve a purpose of identity, tattooing as a form of self expression exists in modern Egyptian society as well. In fact, tattoos that serve a purpose of artistic expression have gained popularity over recent years – perhaps in large part as a result of globalization through the internet, social media, and the influence of western culture through entertainment.
In a country where tattoo culture has always been taboo, it is interesting to witness how some Egyptians have not only embraced this stigmatized form of expression as their preferred art form, but a few of them have even managed to turn it into their profession.
Each with their own unique style, these few Egyptian tattoo artists have defied cultural stigma to show us that there is more to tattoos than simply ‘looking cool’. At a closer glance, one can immediately tell that each of their tattoo designs were carefully thought out and constructed, expressing personal stories on the bodies of everyday modern Egyptians.
Three particularly noteworthy Egyptian tattoo artists are Moheeb of Tezerd Inks, Abdelhamid Elnagar of Inkredible, and Roaa Bayoumi of Zeta Inks – all of whom create 100% original work, and whose designs showcase the detailed artistry that goes into each of these custom-made pieces.
These three artists evidently consider their work to be of great personal value to each of their clients, an overwhelming feat to keep in mind as a tattoo artist – one that is vastly rewarding for each of them.
In addition to the great responsibility of providing their clients with these tattooed time stamps that carry memories and life stories, the idea of fighting society’s stigma against tattoos in and of itself is a brave thing to do. These Egyptian tattoo artists fight for the right of artistic self expression through tattooing on a daily basis.
While this modern-day tattoo sub-culture may not necessarily comprise a large part of Egypt’s population, it is still worth noting how tattoos have evolved into being accepted as an artistic form of self expression amongst some of Egypt’s contemporary community – alongside those that serve religious and cultural purposes as well. At the end of the day, no matter the purpose these tattoos serve, all tattoos end up being a part of a person’s identity and even those of a more traditional or cultural context were once originally made to express something.
*Featured Image courtesy of Moheeb, Tezerd Inks