FOR A HISTORY OF SYMBOLS: TATTOOS IN ROMANIA

The exhibition’s closing date will be extended to May 17th 2015.

“For a History of Tattoos in Romania” is an exhibition created together with the “Mina Minovici” Medical Forensics Institute and premiers a didactic collection belonging to Dr. Nicolae Minovici started as far back as the end of the 19th century.

The opening of the exhibition will take place on Wednesday, December 3rd 2014, 13:00, at the Suțu Palace, and will remain open from December 3rd 2014 to April 30th 2015.

“The fashion of tattoos in Romanian society can be traced back to Neolithic cultures, but in the Middle Ages only the upper class wore tattoos (a cultural element adopted from the Orient) and probably some extravagant figures too such as Petru Cercel (1583 – 1585, ruler of Wallachia) or Gratiani Gaspar (1619 – 1620, ruler of Moldova). With the come of the Modern ages, the fashion of tattoos spread among all social structures, especially urban ones. With their varied symbols, tattoos could be found on people such as delinquents up to members of the higher class. From a sociological and psychological perspective, as markers of a strong imaginative and mental consistency, tattoo symbols also underlined some particularities of individual personality. From the historical perspective of modern daily urban life, the impact of the fast and pronounced modernization, where individuals are assaulted with problems, many of the tattooed symbols represent either a form of protest in a world hard to bear, or a way to exhibit or to affiliate oneself to a group, a community or sexual minority.

In the modern Romanian space, the first synthesis of the tattoo problematics did not belong to a historian but to the forensics doctor Nicolae Minovici. In 1898 he published his dissertation paper called Tattoos in Romania, which is still being used as reference in Romanian medicine, as it should be in historiography too.

After 1850, Bucharest displayed the entire social structure variety that modern life had built: a middle class of freelancers, peasants with consistent incomes, leaseholders and money lenders etc., a <<high>> society with flexible frontiers despite resentments against the newly-rich, then a marginal society ethnically, religiously and professionally varied that was about to become urbanized. One of the common elements – that could be defined as a particularity of private personality, an element seldom exhibited publicly – was the tattoo, with its entire varied symbolistic.

One of the many causes for getting tattoos was voluptuousness. Certain obscene symbols, or symbols hinting to a certain type of excitation, not necessarily of sexual finality, played a major role.

Ernest Borneman mentions in his Dizionario dell’ Erotismo (1988) that <<the practice of tattoos often has erotic motivations which is why it resorts to sexual themes both in ethnologic cultures and evolved ones. In some cultures in Oceania only girls with tattoos can get married. In the West, erotic or obscene tattoos were and still are largely popular. >>

As it seems, the fashion of tattoos did not belong to the Romanian people’s customs, but was imported by foreigners, thus representing one of the many types of acculturation that the urban and suburban Romanian society borrowed from similar European models. Essentially, the phenomenon happening after 1990 is similar, granted that the number of Romanians knowledgeable about the art of tattoos is significantly higher than in 1898.

In Romania, until the 1989 Revolution, tattoos only served as identifiers of a group affiliation and/or as markers of strictly personal meanings: <<Gigi>>, <<Lola>>, a heart pierced by an arrow, an anchor, a flower. Tattoos have become a trend only nowadays, being borrowed as mass-phenomenon from the West, where the tattoo fashion is about to fade. (Green, Terisa, The tattoo Encyclopedia – A Guide to Choosing your Tattoo, A Fireside Book, Rockefeller Center, New York, 2003).

The exhibition <<For A History of Tattoos in Romania>> is created in partnership with <<Mina Minovici>> Medical Forensics Institute and premiers a didactic collection belonging to Dr. Nicolae Minovici started as far back as the end of the 19th century.

Nicolae Minovici (1868 – 1941) was the second director of the Bucharest’s Morgue, after his brother Dr. Mina Minovici, the founder of the institute. Other than that, Nicolae also founded the <<Salvation>> Society (1906, today the Bucharest-Ilfov Ambulance, then the first emergency hospital in Bucharest (1937) and the first museum of Romanian national art (1906), today the <<Dr. Nicolae Minovici>> Folk Art Museum, donated to the Commune of Bucharest in 1937.”

Dr. Adrian Majuru

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