Crossing cultural boundaries through tattooing

Eric Beaver says that if he ever suffers from a case of amnesia, he will only have to look down at his own skin to remember who he is and where he came from.

This is because Beaver has a significant portion of his body tattooed, each tattoo presenting a different memory.

Beaver’s upper arm, depicting a Japanese-styled demon.

“It’s the story of my life on my body, and as much canvas as I’ve been given I’ll try and take advantage of,” Beaver says.

Beaver is one of many people who choose to get tattoos of symbols that belong to cultures other than their own.

Interestingly he has chosen some designs unique to the Polynesian and Japanese cultures.

Currently Beaver’s entire right arm, from wrist to shoulder, depicts a Japanese monk and demon fighting each other, and the piece is laid out into one fluid design.

“It’s not an image representing traditional Japanese history, or an exact image taken from any mythological stories or anything,” Beaver says. “But I just went with a Japanese-themed design for my arm.”

From the age of 15 Beaver has been transfixed with Japanese culture, especially anime, and knew for the last few years that he wanted that art form to take shape on his body.

“I didn’t want to go the route of the standard koi fish, love in Japanese letters, or get a dragon like everyone else has,” Beaver says.

His mission to be unique led him to decide on the monk and demon combination, but Beaver says although the images are recognized as Japanese they have a North American art look to them.

Beaver’s Polynesian styled feet.

Beaver’s Polynesian tattoo is a design of tribal flowers across his feet, and he says the tattoo is a tribute to the tattoo culture.

“I got those because Polynesians were the first people to tattoo, and it’s really the base and footing for tattooing today,” Beaver says. “The tattoos back then were just black with dots and patterns, they didn’t have flaming dice and skulls and whatnot.”

Beaver says he plans on getting tattoos his entire life, until there is no space left on his body. Each one reminds him of where he was at that point in his life in terms of friendships, relationships, and even jobs he has had over the years.

“When you first move into a house you don’t keep the walls white, you put up images that represent yourself, and you put a little bit of you up externally for everyone else to see,” Beaver says.

Kristen Chamberlain got her first cultural tattoo back in November 2007, and she chose a symbol representing the Navajos, a Native American tribe based mainly in New Mexico.

“My family and I travelled a lot when I was younger, and I think I might have lived in the desert in a past life because I just feel like I have this special connection to both the desert and the Navajo tribe,” Chamberlain says.

The symbol is of a rising sun, which Chamberlain chose to get on her right wrist.

“I got it on my right wrist because I’m a writer and that’s the hand I write with, and every time I look down on it the tattoo reminds me that I’m capable of a lot,” Chamberlain says.

Chamberlain explains her tattoo, which represents consistency, has helped her in her own life.

“At the time I got the tattoo it was a while after my grandma had passed away, and things weren’t going so great, and I just needed something constant in my life and I thought it was an appropriate symbol to get,” she says.

Aside from her Navajo symbol, Chamberlain also has a fleur-de-lys tattooed on her ribcage, which symbolizes her time spent living in Montreal this past summer. She describes herself as both spontaneous and worldly, so the chances of her getting another cultural symbol tattooed in the future are quite large.

Beaver’s forearm, depicting a Japanese-styled monk.

“My mom’s European and my dad’s British, but I’ve never had a dominant culture in my life,” Chamberlain says. “The world is a pretty small place once you get out there, and why not enjoy other cultures?”

Like Chamberlain, Ian Cummings also feels he has lived a past life in a place far from here — in his case Egypt.

“I remember going to certain museums and interacting with Egyptian artifacts, and it kind of brought back memories, like I’d been there before,” Cummings says.

Inspired from his interest in the culture from a very young age, Cummings decided to get the Eye of Horus tattooed on his upper arm roughly four years ago.

“This symbol in particular is one that really spoke to me, and the more I learned about it the more I learned about myself,” Cummings says.

He says even though it is just a hieroglyphic of the eye, there is more than what meets the eye when it comes to this particular symbol.

“When you look at it, there’s a bird in the symbol, and there’s a musical instrument, which is significant to me because a huge part of my life is music,” Cummings says. “It represents the human senses such as, taste, touch, smell, and even the sixth sense.”

Cummings says he finds comfort in his tattoo, and it makes him better appreciate life.

“It captures the essence of life and reminds me that I’m a human being, and that we’ve been around since the dawn of time, and we’re not alone,” Cummings says.

“There’s billions of people in the world, and so many cultures, and we should be thankful to be a part of something so massive and amazing.”

Cummings recognizes the giant melting pot of cultures within Canada, and knows that because of this fact the spread of cultural images as body artwork is increasing.

“Tattoos are a way of solidifying this diversity, and people are becoming more understanding of each other, and that will definitely be reflected through tattoos,” Cummings says.