Over the weekend, Malaysia held the latest edition of the Malaysia Tattoo Expo, a 3-day event with over 130 guest artists from 34 different countries, including some of the foremost names in the tattoo industry today. The event also included competitions for tattoo collectors, inviting them to show off the art they’ve accumulated on their skin.
However, it appears that some of the on-stage activities, where some participants displayed their ink, are being attacked by more conservative elements of society as ‘vulgar’ and ‘not part of Malaysian culture’, leading to Tourism, Art, and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Ketapi calling for an investigation into the expo.
Specifically, the uproar was caused by some of the participants stripping down to their underwear to showcase Japanese-style full-body tattoos, many of which span the entire expanse of a tattoo collector’s skin.
However, Malaysians are starting to fight back on the sentiment, reminding those who’re finding fault with the images that tattoo culture has long been part of Malaysian culture in Sabah and Sarawak – and this includes full-body tattooing, and the practice of displaying these tattoos.
Di Sabah & Sarawak, Tattoo merupakan sesuatu yg biasa bahkan menjadi warisan budaya banyak ethnik Bumiputera.
Henry Golding yg berasal daripada ethnik Iban pun mempunyai tattoo "Bunga Terung"
— Leeroy Ting (@LeeroyTing) December 2, 2019
“In Sabah and Sarawak, tattoos are something normal, and part of the cultural heritage of many Bumiputera groups. Henry Golding comes from the Iban ethnic group and has ‘Bunga Terung’ tattoos.
Even if you don’t agree, no one is asking you to bring your wife and children to see!”
Tattoos are personal, and at times, have sacred meaning to the ones who bear them.
Ridiculing people for having tattoos and celebrating this form of art just shows the lack of depth you have. https://t.co/ybvZK1rP6q
— Aish Mann (@aishmann) December 2, 2019
Tattoos have always had a cultural significance in Malaysia, especially when it comes to the Iban, Kadazan, Kayan, Kenyah, and Ulu tribes – they are bumiputeras too. Enough with the religion card. This is a multiracial country. People have tattoos & they have expos. Get over it. https://t.co/JPHRhzfvql
— 𝙐𝙢𝙚𝙨𝙝 𝙉𝙚𝙧𝙬𝙞𝙣 𝙉𝙖𝙞𝙧 (@NerwinNair3) December 2, 2019
Tattoos hold cultural significance in Sarawak and Sabah tapi senang-senang je kau cakap “perkara seperti ini“. Memang patut MOTAC support, dah nama pun Ministry of TOURISM, ARTS and CULTURE.
Besides, orang buat Tattoo Expo tetiba kau tak boleh hantar anak gi mengaji ke? https://t.co/0CwcvT3Y3I
— Shafiqah Othman (@sfqomhz) December 2, 2019
Tattoos are indeed part of the rich tapestry of Malaysian culture, as they are interwoven with the stories of many ethnic groups who call Malaysia home. While some exhibitions of tattoo culture involve exhibiting the whole body, it is not done for activity of a vulgar nature, and is more akin to an art exhibition than anything else.
Excuse you ah but tattoos are a culture and tradition here in East Malaysia. So get your mind out of the gutter and look at the ink artwork instead. https://t.co/m1vROTMD4X
— Paul Ooi (@psunster) December 2, 2019
The argument currently being made is in bad faith and refuses to separate the art from the body. Perhaps those who see something erotic in these exhibitions should take a closer look at their biases, and what those biases mean.
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