A history of body art

Updated 4:34 PM ET, Fri September 15, 2017
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Tattoos have never been more popular, and part of the appeal lies in the rich variety of body-art traditions of the past. This portrait shows a heavily tattooed 19th-century man known as "the Turk." He was an act in Barnum's, a European traveling circus. His tattoos were in the Burmese style, and he was said to have been kidnapped by the "barbarians" of Asia and forcibly tattooed. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
These engravings of fully costumed Maoris from the early 1800s were made by English sailor Barnet Burns, who himself received a full facial tattoo. When he returned to England in 1835, he styled himself as a "New Zealand chief." Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
A Maori chief from New Zealand, circa 1950, with the traditional facial tattoos. Courtesy of General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
A bust made around 1840 displays Maori tattoos. It was made by Pierre Marie Dumoutier, perhaps the first scientific participant in a colonial expedition to study physical anthropology. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
This native of the Pacific island of Tikopia has rectangular chest tattoos thought to have been inspired by flags of passing sailing ships, which were considered symbols of power by indigenous peoples. It dates to 1827. Thames & Hudson
A Samoan man shows off his traditional pe'a, or ritual tattoos that are a marker of manhood. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
This photograph, taken by Mark Adams in 1980, captures the bloody and painful process of customary tattoo among Samoan men. It involves excruciating pain, said to be the equivalent of childbirth in women. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
The pe'a covers the body from waist to the rectum and then to the knees. It is crafted using only handmade tools such as bone, tusks, turtle shell and wood. Courtesy of Sandra Mu/Getty Images
The Naga people of Assam, India, receive their tattoos when enemy flesh has been touched. This was taken in the early 1900s. Thames & Hudson
This 17th-century tattoo stamp was used to make an imprint of a tattoo on the skin, which was then needled. It was owned by the Razzouk family of Jerusalem, originally of Coptic descent, who have been tattooing pilgrims with Christian iconography for centuries; they continue to do so today. This stamp depicts the resurrection of Christ. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
A 1920s American tattoo "flash" or page of design ideas. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
Whang-ud, who was 92 years old when this picture was taken in 2012, has been described as the last traditional tattooist in the Philippines. In recent years, enthusiasts and tourists have hiked for hours to reach the remote village in which she practices. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
Whang-ud, 92, uses a lemon thorn attached to a wand to make these traditional tattoos. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
The impulse to identify with a tribe can also be seen in criminal contexts. A former high-ranking gang member in Cape Town, South Africa, shows off his gangland tattoos. When this picture was taken, in 2007, he had retired and was working as a cleaner and handyman at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
Inmates of the Makati City jail in Manila attend Catholic worship in 2010. Their tattoos identify them as members of particular gangs. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
In Japan, a rich tradition of body art, known as Irezumi, stretches back to approximately 10,000 B.C. Tattooing was banned between 1876-1948, when the art form became associated with criminality and gang culture. But once prohibitions were lifted, tattooists were free once again to work without fear of arrest. Here, a Japanese man is pictured in 1958 with full body tattoos. Courtesy of Keystone Features/Getty Images
To this day, tattoos have never been more popular. They may have lost much of their traditional cultural significance but are developing a boundary-crossing modern culture of their own. Jack Mosher, a tattooist, shows off his lavish body art. Courtesy of Thames & Hudson
Celebrity culture has played a large role in influencing and popularizing tribal tattoos. Angelina Jolie has a Buddhist Pali incantation written in Khmer script, a language spoken in Cambodia. Courtesy of Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Rihanna is pictured with a traditional Maori tattoo on her right hand. The design reportedly took 11 hours to complete, with only a chisel and mallet used to create the intricate tattoo. Courtesy of Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Image