Earlier, people had to go abroad to get a tattoo. It was mostly sailors who sported this kind of treasure, usually on the upper arm. The tattoos were usually connected to seafaring, one way or another. And Iceland. Some even got a tattoo of some lady and had the name of their girlfriend written below. But the sailor theme was most common, an anchor, waves and such things.
Very few women had tattoos. It wasn’t considered particularly feminine. But this changed. You started seeing women with tattoos. And then the tattoo became trendy. More and more people got a tattoo. Tattoo parlors opened in Iceland and they grew in number fast. The old anchor gave in to oriental symbols and tribal patterns. Different trends and movements flooded Iceland. The tattoos moved from the upper arm down to the legs, calves and ankles. Women often got a tattoo on the lower back, just above the butt, a so called “tramp stamp”.
By now, a complete anarchy seems to dominate Icelandic tattoos. Some people have so many or big tattoos that they cover more parts of the body than untouched skin.
The parlors are many and we have many tattoo artists whose work is renowned around the world. Tattoo parlors are subject to great quality requirements and there is great control over hygiene and professionalism, so now they are comparable to the best abroad.
But extensive source material about the history of the tattoo in Iceland is lacking. What happened to the old Icelandic tattoo tradition? Have people completely stopped getting an anchor? Are we perhaps losing some very important heritage? And what effects will these foreign influences have on our culture and history? Can we affect this development with a governmental intervention?
We have often done it before, with good results. Can we make some kind of a system that counteracts foreign influence while supporting and encouraging Icelandic traditions? Many people have Chinese symbols on their body and even portraits of famous foreigners like Jesus. What about Matthías Jockumsson or Hallgrímur Pétursson? Does anyone have tattoos depicting them? Not many, I am afraid.
But this can easily be changed. I suggest that we consider forming a committee about these things.
Icelandic Tattoo Tradition
We can form a group of well-educated and intelligent people. We need a specialist in Icelandic, a representative from the Árni Magnússon Institute, and a lawyer.
The group would suggest the work process and would consult the parliament on the legislation. The parliament would then pass a bill about tattoos. The same people who made the recommendations would be on a committee with the purpose to monitor that the law will be followed. The main objective would be to fight against foreign influences.
It would be forbidden to get a tattoo that no one else has had before, all tattoos would have to be based on tradition. If powerful people in society turn out to have questionable tattoos it can be solved by making them Icelandic. If, for example, the prime minister has the Japanese symbol for peace tattooed above his buttocks, then that is approved. But no other Japanese symbols.
The committee would deal with all innovations and debatable questions. If anyone was interested in getting a tattoo that was not on the list of approved tattoos, for example something the person in question had created, an application would have to be sent to the Tattoo Committee. It would allow what it felt conformed to the Icelandic tattoo tradition but would ban everything else.
Members of the committee could even make an academic career for themselves out of this, writing books about Icelandic tattoos and travelling abroad to give lectures about the subject. All tattoos worn by committee members would of course automatically be approved, and if someone would doubt their legality, they can refer to books written by themselves for confirmation. I think this could be a good idea that would create jobs for educated people with little to do.
Of course, a committee like this would not be above criticism. If the presence of the committee is questioned, the committee just refers to the parliament, and if the parliament is asked it points to individual committee members who can give an objective statement about the committee, as scholars. That should be enough to confuse people. On a regular basis, a spokesman of the committee would give a lecture and point out the self-evident fact that if the committee was not doing its important job, enforcing the tattoo law, then all the idiots in Iceland would be getting tattoos with swastikas, porn and other things they would regret later, and that the Tattoo Committee was basically saving us from this. And we would all be relieved while Fjölnir Tattoo draws a can of Gunnars mayonnaise on us.
Iceland has big problems. We face complicated tasks; currency restrictions, health care, purchasing power and poverty, housing problems, and then there is the whole financial system.
Sometimes Icelanders have been honored in other countries by something being named after us, our country, places in Iceland, or even famous Icelanders.
Nationalism seems to be on the rise in Iceland today. People talk much about the so-called national culture, and cite history.
For the last few weeks I have been working hard at finishing the third, and last, volume of my trilogy of youth memoirs.