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PAGAN FLESHWORKS Reviewed
Although birthed from a very academic point of view and process, PAGAN FLESHWORKS is a very readable and interesting look at body art from author Maureen Mercury. She was persuing her master's degree and conceived of her thesis as a depth psychology analysis of modern male tattooing. Feeling the paper and project would be missing a genuine element if she was just an interviewer and observer, Mercury decided to get a tattoo herself, and in the process found herself contemplating an experience that was much different than she had imagined and which led her to view the process of getting body art as an expression of the individual's soul.
One theme touched upon is that of archetypes. These symbolic roles and myths are repeated and found in cultures throughout the world, and Mercury discusses and shows examples of these same themes and stories in tattooing. Looking at concepts as simple as "good" and "bad," examples are given where people embrace that which both occurs in their lives and that which they wish to manifest. Getting a tattoo of a death image does not have to mean one wishes for death, but can symbolize a triumph over mortal fears or challenges. In analyzing body art and tattooing from a standpoint of healing ritual, Mercury touches upon initiations, transformation and ecstatic quest. Looking at the human psyche and body modification, it's clear that modern day humans are exploring and working out the same issues as Neolithic man when he first tattooed himself: how to show what is inside ones self.
This is one of the only books I've read that talks about subjects like chakras and body art, going into the modern topics of 3-D tattooing and dermal implants. Mercury also takes a look at body art from the point of view of alchemy, considering tattoos and piercings as possible markings of intense personal experiences that correspond to the associations of calcination, dissolution or coagulation.
High-lighting the text are many wonderful photographs by body artist Steve Haworth, who specializes in a variety of 3-D and implant techniques in his body modification practice. If you are really looking for a great psychological look at body art that doesn't stigmatize the practices, this is the book I recommend.
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