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Getting inked: Sweden's tattoo trend laid bare

The Local · 21 Jul 2011, 13:54

Published: 21 Jul 2011 13:54 GMT+02:00

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The waiting room of the tattoo studio is classic and cool; old photographs cover the blood red walls and loud rock music thumps in the background. The couches are full.

A steady flow of people sweeps in and out of the waiting room as they make appointments or nervously step out for a cigarette. It is a busy and energetic scene.

However, the aspect that stands out the most is the dull, non-stop buzzing coming from behind the curtains in the backroom; a frightening sound reminiscent of a bad trip to the dentist.

However, this waiting room is far from the average doctor’s office.

It is East Street tattoo studio in Stockholm’s Södermalm neighborhood, where heavily inked and highly skilled artists deliver a delightful mix of pain and pleasure to their clients through a long session with needles and ink.

Tattoo studios like East Street are a regular feature of all major towns across Sweden. In fact Sweden hosts more studios per capita than almost any other country in the world.

What's more, Sweden is recognised as being home to some of the world’s best artists, international conventions are commonly held here, and hundreds of artists from across the world come to work in the country.

While once looked down upon as a marker only fit for drunken sailors, criminals, and rock and roll stars, tattoo culture in Sweden is changing rapidly.

Across the country, tattoos are appearing everywhere, in unexpected places and on unexpected people.

“I am a Christian, and I always have God with me so I am getting a tattoo that says ‘Never Alone’ on my foot. It will always remind me of my faith. I think tattoos are pretty, and this is something that I can stand for the rest of my life," explains Johanna, an 18-year-old visitor at East Street.

"I’ve been thinking about it for a year and a half, but I’m ready. A little bit nervous too," she said as she prepared for her first tattoo.

Media coverage and pop culture have helped to make tattoos a mainstream trend.

However, according to Robin Sjöstrand, the shop manager at East Street, their increasing popularity does not take away from a tattoos “street credit” or alternative subculture vibe.

“No, I don’t think that tattoos have lost their meaning, even if they are more popular now. They still hurt; they take a lot of guts, whether the tattoo takes an hour or 40," he says.

"I tip my hat off to everyone who gets one; I have to give them respect. It hurts everyone just the same. So to me, one tattoo is worth just as much as someone who is fully tattooed and works in the branch.”

The symbols and prejudices associated with those symbols are changing. For example, once upon a time, a two swallow tattoos meant that a sailor had traveled across the world.

Story continues below…

Today, nearly every skinny hipster in Stockholm rocks a swallow tattoo on his or her inner arm or chest.

Sjöstrand explained while each of these hipsters might have the same swallow tattoo, the meaning is different to each of them.

Tattoos no longer mark a person and their status to the outside world, but instead, they have become intimate representation of an individual’s memories, dreams, or desires.

That being said, getting a tattoo is still a style choice that not everyone appreciates.

One of the guest artists visiting East Street half jokingly advised to “stay away from Östermalm, you still get a lot of looks there," referring to the wealthy inner-city neighbourhood.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

08:28 July 22, 2011 by Corvinus
I live in Östermalm, possibly one of the snobbiest parts of too (Strandvägen) and have a full sleeve tattoo. I didn't get any wierd looks yet...in fact, completely the opposite, I had an old lady shuffle up to me in Ica the other day and start rubbing my arm, after wondering what the crazy woman was up to she said "I'm 90 years old but I can appreciate these tattoos, it's real art" lol
11:56 July 22, 2011 by Mb 65
I don't call tattoo's a work of art, and don't like to see them on people. If you want a work of art put it on your wall
13:17 July 22, 2011 by Marc the Texan
Personally I don't care for them and think they have risen to the level of cultural cliche. A good portion of the Swedish girls I've been with have had them. I thought most of them were sophomoric and not pretty. When I get a glimpse of my girlfriend's tattoo, I just close my eyes and think of Texas.
18:00 July 22, 2011 by jgmouton
Work of art? You must be joking! It's hideous.
03:36 July 23, 2011 by dan_sparrow
smells ignorance here... can u smell it????

well tattoo is actually art..history and a way to express ourselves, but only the ones who understand about it, can say so...

anyway u must learn about tattoos to talk about them... if u dont know... just keep ur mouth shut otherwise, ur mouth will smell ignorace...
09:02 July 23, 2011 by jgmouton
I'm free to open my mouth and express my opinion OK? We are not under a dictatorship.

These drawings on the skin have ugly colours and ridiculous shapes. I find them repulsive. They make the body look like packaging cardboard. Making them has also proved dangerous for people because this can potentially spread diseases.

You're free to like them and I'm free not to. No need to be an expert or a connoisseur or a snob.
13:11 July 23, 2011 by From_San_Diego_to_Sodermalm
really showing your true colors
13:25 July 23, 2011 by Mb 65
Body marking was a primitive thing that different tribes did to themselves. it's the same when men wear earrings. it dates back 1000's of year and they think that it is so modern and hip. Can anyone tell me what does it prove. They obviously do it to be looked at as the all wear clothing or lack of it to show off their tattoos.
19:50 July 23, 2011 by volvoman9
One of my sons has them the other thinks they're stupid ... Go figure. I only hope I live long enough to see this generation grow old so I can laugh at them at the beach.
09:01 July 24, 2011 by cattie
@Marc "sophomoric"

It is so apt, because outside the music business, the only people over 25 who are sporting their new tats are trying too hard at something.

It is a permanent reminder of a temporary fashion.

And the "removed" tattoos look even worse.
19:26 July 24, 2011 by Carbarrister
My 23 year old son told me that a lot of the girls he knows are asking themselves "what was I thinking" and are having their "tramp stamps" removed.

That will be the next trend in Sweden too.
18:06 July 25, 2011 by dan_sparrow
well seems like none of U knows about tattoos at all

@cattie, nowadays even people over 40/50 get tattooed

@ mb 65, tattoo evolve too, 1000 years ago the tattoo was not what it is today maybe u should go to some tattoo convention, that can open your eyes a bit about tattoo art...

@volvoman9, maybe that people will laugh at u too, not because of the tattoos, but maybe cuz ure fat, or just looking funny...

@jgmouton theres no report about spreading diseases by tattooing, not if the tattoo studio follows the health department rules...studios got the same or in some cases better equipment than hospitals just visit a good studio and u will see
09:01 July 26, 2011 by spy

I hope your tattoos are spelt better than your comments on this forum.
06:13 July 27, 2011 by Tdye

"It is a permanent reminder of a temporary fashion"

That statement couldn't be further from the truth..i have been getting tattoos for a good 20 years now...this is no fashion... it has taken yeas and years for this "fashion" to be socially acceptable even in America..you dont have to like them, and you can voice your opinion on them as well..but just remember this In America we have a very old saying

"the difference between people with tattoos and the people with out tattoos is..the people with tattoos dont care if you have them or not" Tattoos are a way of life for many people, some think they are "expressing" them selves what ever the reason is.. just rest assured this is no "temporary fashion"

they will be with Sweden till your last days on earth

"It is so apt, because outside the music business, the only people over 25 who are sporting their new tats are trying too hard at something"

this is also inaccurate I am 39 soon to be 40 and i still enjoy getting them...and trust me im not trying to be anyone but me
13:18 July 27, 2011 by spy

Just remember when your tattooed breasts are sagging around your waist they wont look nearly as cool. : )
16:20 July 29, 2011 by rybo1
Nothing worse than seeing a good looking man or a good looking woman adorned with tattoos. Tattoos add nothing and are a detraction of natural beauty.
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