ArabInk:

هي سلسلة من الصور الوثائقية حول الأوشام العربية في العالم العربي، ودورها في تطوير أنماط جديدة من الخط العربي، ومعانيها وتأثيرها على جيل عربي

is an on-going photo-documentary series about Arabic tattoos in the Arab world, their role in the development of new styles of calligraphy, and their meaning and impact on the people photographed.

 

Please hover over the images with the pointer to display each subjects personally written account of their tattoo.

The images below are a small sample of this project   ...  الصور  نموذج صغير من هذا المشروع

Yazan / Ghalia - يزن / غالية We decided to get eachother's names tattooed on our 3rd anniversary as gifts for one another and as a reminder for each of us that despite how others in the region see marriage, we see it in our own way, it's not a contract and a ring on your finger..it's a person you decide to commit to for life.

Yazan / Ghalia - يزن / غالية

We decided to get eachother's names tattooed on our 3rd anniversary as gifts for one another and as a reminder for each of us that despite how others in the region see marriage, we see it in our own way, it's not a contract and a ring on your finger..it's a person you decide to commit to for life.

“Ummi” (My Mother) trickled down the back of her neck in thick, black geometric lines. I encourage my subjects to tell the story behind their tattoos.  However, as I watched her play back the meaning in her own mind, I could see that she wasn’t quite prepared to expose it past the skin’s surface.

Some people are anxious to discuss the meaning behind the Arabic calligraphy floating across their arm, back, ankle or wrists; they have poignant and revealing stories.  Others prefer to let the tattoo speak for itself, with a story that they feel is too powerful or personal to express otherwise.

Tattoos have emerged as a new medium, not only for the art of Arabic calligraphy, but for a new generation of Arab youth who are searching for a means of defining their identity. While Western media constantly reduces the Middle East to a religion-centric war zone, they fail to notice the linguistic and cultural similarities that unify Arab people beyond religious affiliation. 

Each photograph cuts away the distracting stereotypes of conservatism and strict religious teachings.  At once, it reveals a more complex and diverse people and culture, with a singular means of expressing their identity through the Arabic language.

Each encounter becomes a raw exposure of the individual’s persona: Who do they love?  Where are they from? What do they believe?

Yasmin & Amer / ياسمين و عامر "Our honeymoon summer 2010, as creatives we carry around a travel sketch book and abuse it beautifully, so when I (Yasmin) asked Amer to sketch out his name in Arabic while chilling on the costa-del-sol it wasn't such an awkward proposal. Once he was done we headed out to town where I had booked an appointment to get inked, as we approached the parlour it hit him and he was in a happy state of shock. One exact year later Amer asked me to sketch my name, we also went back to the same tattoo artist. Not only are the tattoos very personal but their locations on our bodies have an even deeper meaning to us.”

Yasmin & Amer / ياسمين و عامر

"Our honeymoon summer 2010, as creatives we carry around a travel sketch book and abuse it beautifully, so when I (Yasmin) asked Amer to sketch out his name in Arabic while chilling on the costa-del-sol it wasn't such an awkward proposal. Once he was done we headed out to town where I had booked an appointment to get inked, as we approached the parlour it hit him and he was in a happy state of shock. One exact year later Amer asked me to sketch my name, we also went back to the same tattoo artist. Not only are the tattoos very personal but their locations on our bodies have an even deeper meaning to us.”

تنسدل كلمة "أمي" (والدتي) خلف عنقها بخط أسود عريض. كثيرا ما أشجع من حولي على سرد حكاياتهم وراء الوشم الذي يحملونه.  لكن، بينما كنت أراقبها وهي تسترجع أحداث قصتها في ذهنها، أدركت أنها غير مستعدة للبوح بأكثر مما ينطوي عليه ذلك الوشم

 

يتلهف بعض الأشخاص لمناقشة المعنى وراء ذلك الخط العربي الذي يزين أذرعهم أو أظهرهم أو كواحلهم أو معصمهم، فلديهم الكثير من الحكايات المؤثرة والكاشفة.  ويفضل آخرون أن يعبر الوشم عن نفسه، لأنه يسرد قصتهم أو يعبر عن شخصيتهم بشكل أفضل

 

ظهر الوشم كوسيلة جديدة، ليس فقط لفن الخط العربي، ولكن لجيل جديد من الشباب العربي الذين يبحثون عن وسيلة للتعريف بهويتهم. فبينما تقلل وسائل الإعلام الغربية باستمرار من شأن الشرق الأوسط باعتباره مركزا للحروب الدينية، لم يلحظوا أوجه الشبه اللغوية والثقافية التي توحد الشعب العربي بشكل يتجاوز الانتماءات الدينية

تدفع كل صورة بعيدا الصور النمطية المشتتة عن المحافظة والتعاليم الدينية الصارمة.  ففي آن واحد، تكشف هذه الصور عن أشخاص أكثر تعقيدا وتنوعا وثقافة مع وسيلة فريدة للتعبير عن هويتهم من خلال اللغة العربية

 

يصبح كل لقاء لحظة انكشاف لشخصيتهم: من يحبون؟ من أين هم؟ بماذا يؤمنون؟

 

“Language is the key to the heart of the people.” – Ahmed Deedat


"In loving memory of my father. My world changed when my dad passed away. Little did I know that I will never be the same. They say time heals all wounds. I'm still waiting for my wounds to heal. Perhaps they will eventually, but for the meantime I still get emotional.  In loving memory of beloved father I got inked with his name so it could be a constant reminder of a great man and a role model to all for 76 years, a husband for my mother for 47 years and a father to my sister and me for 41 years. Words can not express my feelings and my love for such a great man. May Allah grant him the highest level of Paradise."

"In loving memory of my father. My world changed when my dad passed away. Little did I know that I will never be the same. They say time heals all wounds. I'm still waiting for my wounds to heal. Perhaps they will eventually, but for the meantime I still get emotional. 
In loving memory of beloved father I got inked with his name so it could be a constant reminder of a great man and a role model to all for 76 years, a husband for my mother for 47 years and a father to my sister and me for 41 years. Words can not express my feelings and my love for such a great man. May Allah grant him the highest level of Paradise."

"وتزعم أنك جرم صغير وفيك أنطوى العالم الأكبر". It's a well known quote for Al Imam Ali although that's not what makes it of interest to me. For the past ten years I've been contemplating getting a tattoo, I was always hesitant because I wanted to get something that I felt I truly connected to and that meant something to me that wouldn't change with time. During these past years and whenever I reflected on life (usually sadly when feeling down) I would remember this quote. To me it means: We as humans generally think we are tiny unimportant known and understood beings in a vast universe that is quite the opposite (still unknown and still to be studied and understood fully), but what I feel and believe is true is that we as humans are yet to know ourselves and understand ourselves and how we function and the entire relationship between our physical and psychological being. We contain within us, within our physical bodies and our brains and our psychology and being the entire universe (or at least what reflects the entire universe) and all these complex processes, feelings, experiences and reactions; and whenever we look inwards we learn more about ourselves and what/how we learn and believe and feel and act, and that is a journey of knowing and growing that (to me) will never end, and it is a journey of inquiry and search that intrigues me much more than understanding anything else about this big world we live in externally.

"وتزعم أنك جرم صغير وفيك أنطوى العالم الأكبر". It's a well known quote for Al Imam Ali although that's not what makes it of interest to me. For the past ten years I've been contemplating getting a tattoo, I was always hesitant because I wanted to get something that I felt I truly connected to and that meant something to me that wouldn't change with time. During these past years and whenever I reflected on life (usually sadly when feeling down) I would remember this quote. To me it means: We as humans generally think we are tiny unimportant known and understood beings in a vast universe that is quite the opposite (still unknown and still to be studied and understood fully), but what I feel and believe is true is that we as humans are yet to know ourselves and understand ourselves and how we function and the entire relationship between our physical and psychological being. We contain within us, within our physical bodies and our brains and our psychology and being the entire universe (or at least what reflects the entire universe) and all these complex processes, feelings, experiences and reactions; and whenever we look inwards we learn more about ourselves and what/how we learn and believe and feel and act, and that is a journey of knowing and growing that (to me) will never end, and it is a journey of inquiry and search that intrigues me much more than understanding anything else about this big world we live in externally.

Freedom - حرية "It's two pieces; the first one I got when I was 16 is the Egyptian sign and it means the key of life. At the time I loved the symbol and today it's spiritual to me.. I hold my own key to life. I later got the Arabic calligraphy of freedom tattooed around it.. I fell in love with the art of calligraphy there's something mesmerising about the lines and curves and how it takes you a few minutes to realise what's actually said.. And freedom is a word I believe everyone loves and to have it on me gives me my own sense of freedom."

Freedom - حرية

"It's two pieces; the first one I got when I was 16 is the Egyptian sign and it means the key of life. At the time I loved the symbol and today it's spiritual to me.. I hold my own key to life. I later got the Arabic calligraphy of freedom tattooed around it.. I fell in love with the art of calligraphy there's something mesmerising about the lines and curves and how it takes you a few minutes to realise what's actually said.. And freedom is a word I believe everyone loves and to have it on me gives me my own sense of freedom."

Ola - عُلا "After my mother's name."

Ola - عُلا

"After my mother's name."

الحرية - Freedom

الحرية - Freedom

'Yousef' - the name of my late uncle.  Some of the sweetest memories I recall are of my late uncle Yousef الله يرحمو. He was so kind and sweet and to me, he was my favorite. Not a single birthday of mine, since I was a kid or where ever in the world I was living, he would always call me to wish me a happy birthday and make sure I opened the gift he sent me, and made sure it always arrived in March 12.This tat is very close to me and it's a piece I will enjoy for the rest of me life. RIP 3ammo Yousef.

'Yousef' - the name of my late uncle. 
Some of the sweetest memories I recall are of my late uncle Yousef الله يرحمو. He was so kind and sweet and to me, he was my favorite. Not a single birthday of mine, since I was a kid or where ever in the world I was living, he would always call me to wish me a happy birthday and make sure I opened the gift he sent me, and made sure it always arrived in March 12.This tat is very close to me and it's a piece I will enjoy for the rest of me life. RIP 3ammo Yousef.

"It means Angel (Malak ملاك).. I've always believed in guardian angels and spirits around us, so for my tattoo i wanted to combine two things I loved, calligraphy and angels.. Now I feel protected because I have my guardian angels all around me.."

"It means Angel (Malak ملاك).. I've always believed in guardian angels and spirits around us, so for my tattoo i wanted to combine two things I loved, calligraphy and angels.. Now I feel protected because I have my guardian angels all around me.."

Nadia / Anabella - نادية / انابيلة "Anabella and Nadia. My daughter and mother's names"

Nadia / Anabella - نادية / انابيلة

"Anabella and Nadia. My daughter and mother's names"

{متى استعبدتم الناس وقد ولدتهم أمهاتهم أحراراً}"  This old famous phrase by Omar bin Alkhattab represents treating people equally.. No one is a slave, no one should be treated differently based on gender, race, religion, or beliefs."

{متى استعبدتم الناس وقد ولدتهم أمهاتهم أحراراً}"
 This old famous phrase by Omar bin Alkhattab represents treating people equally.. No one is a slave, no one should be treated differently based on gender, race, religion, or beliefs."

لا تخشى من الموت لكن من حياة لم تعشها، لن تحيا أبد الدهر فاحرص على أن تحيا / 'Do not fear death, fear a life not lived'

لا تخشى من الموت لكن من حياة لم تعشها، لن تحيا أبد الدهر فاحرص على أن تحيا / 'Do not fear death, fear a life not lived'

"على هذه الأرض ما يستحقّ الحياة." – محمود درويش I am a PhD holder, and for us particularly, tattoos are taboos in the Middle East. Thus, with my tattoo I try to debunk stereotypes and resist the status quo. I believe my body is mine - as long as I am alive, to use and abuse. My body is my own canvas on which I paint and draw. My skin is the walls on which I graffiti.  I believe a tattoo is a form of art. A tattoo and a poem, for example, are the same: both are crafted with patience and love. They are both painfully beautiful and beautifully painful.  I did it for the idea of Palestine; the memory, not the geography.

"على هذه الأرض ما يستحقّ الحياة." – محمود درويش

I am a PhD holder, and for us particularly, tattoos are taboos in the Middle East. Thus, with my tattoo I try to debunk stereotypes and resist the status quo. I believe my body is mine - as long as I am alive, to use and abuse. My body is my own canvas on which I paint and draw. My skin is the walls on which I graffiti. 
I believe a tattoo is a form of art. A tattoo and a poem, for example, are the same: both are crafted with patience and love. They are both painfully beautiful and beautifully painful.  I did it for the idea of Palestine; the memory, not the geography.

"Ala' is not a familiar name, arabs tend to prounouce it as علاء, which is a male's name, while foreigners, on the other hand, tend to pronounce it as Allah as it is hard for them to pronounce the hamza. The sentence tattooed is a phrase from the Qur'an holding this intricate name, and meaning "So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?" where my name stands for the favor in particular, as for the choice of the calligraphy, it was taken from a 325 year-old unique handwritten Qur'an."

"Ala' is not a familiar name, arabs tend to prounouce it as علاء, which is a male's name, while foreigners, on the other hand, tend to pronounce it as Allah as it is hard for them to pronounce the hamza. The sentence tattooed is a phrase from the Qur'an holding this intricate name, and meaning "So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?" where my name stands for the favor in particular, as for the choice of the calligraphy, it was taken from a 325 year-old unique handwritten Qur'an."

In the subject's own words... "Patience is an illustration of my soul; it depicts a story that's rife with struggle and self conflict that it became the single most omnipresent aspect in my life. To elaborate, I've been dealing with depression for the past 6 years, it's been difficult for me to maintain the illusion of content throughout those 6 years. Patience to me is hope, a hope for a better future, a hope that everything will be alright despite the constant disbelief in my head, I'm not ashamed to say that I did give up hope a couple of times, I succumbed to my disease and lost my will to continue marching forward. The tattoo is a memento to remind myself that I should never lose hope, no matter how bleak the future appears to be to me."

In the subject's own words... "Patience is an illustration of my soul; it depicts a story that's rife with struggle and self conflict that it became the single most omnipresent aspect in my life. To elaborate, I've been dealing with depression for the past 6 years, it's been difficult for me to maintain the illusion of content throughout those 6 years. Patience to me is hope, a hope for a better future, a hope that everything will be alright despite the constant disbelief in my head, I'm not ashamed to say that I did give up hope a couple of times, I succumbed to my disease and lost my will to continue marching forward. The tattoo is a memento to remind myself that I should never lose hope, no matter how bleak the future appears to be to me."

Talal Sutan AlHasan - طلال سطعان الحسن "My father's full name, middle name is also my younger brother and last name is my elder brother. It's a way for me to be closer to my father after he died in 2003. He loved life, had presence and made sure everyone was happy around him. He helped a lot of people. I looked and still look up to him deeply and was an inspirational figure whom I admired. He was a very diplomatic and charismatic man who loved his family and built a great environment for them. My brothers are also very important individuals, same goes for my mother and sister. We are very different from each other, with each his/her own energy and vibe, but when we unite it's wonderful."

Talal Sutan AlHasan - طلال سطعان الحسن

"My father's full name, middle name is also my younger brother and last name is my elder brother. It's a way for me to be closer to my father after he died in 2003. He loved life, had presence and made sure everyone was happy around him. He helped a lot of people. I looked and still look up to him deeply and was an inspirational figure whom I admired. He was a very diplomatic and charismatic man who loved his family and built a great environment for them. My brothers are also very important individuals, same goes for my mother and sister. We are very different from each other, with each his/her own energy and vibe, but when we unite it's wonderful."

"Patience. Because dealing with anxiety every single day can get overwhelming. Because when I feel the world is moving at a million miles a minute, I need to remember to breathe. To patiently wait for it to pass. Because battling with your own mind every single day can get exhausting. Because patience is the acceptance that things can happen in a different order than what you have in mind. Thank you The Art of Hayan Maani for designing something so beautiful that means SO much to me"  

"Patience. Because dealing with anxiety every single day can get overwhelming. Because when I feel the world is moving at a million miles a minute, I need to remember to breathe. To patiently wait for it to pass. Because battling with your own mind every single day can get exhausting. Because patience is the acceptance that things can happen in a different order than what you have in mind. Thank you The Art of Hayan Maani for designing something so beautiful that means SO much to me"
 

"Irada" - determination- is my favorite word in Arabic. I thought about getting this tattoo for three years before actually doing it. In my head, I had to earn it - which I believe I did. It is also a reminder for me to keep going and that I can achieve whatever I want if I am determined. "إرادة" هي كلمتي المفضلة باللغة العربية. فكرت في الحصول على هذا الوشم لمدة ثلاث سنوات قبل قيامي به. كان التحدي أنه يجب أن أستحق هذه الكلمة أن تكون وشم على جسدي - وأعتقد أنني إستحقيته. وهو أيضا تذكير بالنسبة لي بالإستمرار ببذل الجهود وأنني أستطيع تحقيق أي شيء أريده إذا صممت عليه.

"Irada" - determination- is my favorite word in Arabic. I thought about getting this tattoo for three years before actually doing it. In my head, I had to earn it - which I believe I did. It is also a reminder for me to keep going and that I can achieve whatever I want if I am determined.

"إرادة" هي كلمتي المفضلة باللغة العربية. فكرت في الحصول على هذا الوشم لمدة ثلاث سنوات قبل قيامي به. كان التحدي أنه يجب أن أستحق هذه الكلمة أن تكون وشم على جسدي - وأعتقد أنني إستحقيته. وهو أيضا تذكير بالنسبة لي بالإستمرار ببذل الجهود وأنني أستطيع تحقيق أي شيء أريده إذا صممت عليه.

""Kayan" means "being". The tattoo is a self-tribute to the simple notion of existence, my personal memento mori. Remember, thou shalt die. It's not as cynical as it sounds, it's actually a reminder of the simplicity of happiness. There are more than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The finite speed of light and the ongoing expansion of space mean that Earth doesn’t even exist for some regions of space, because space may expand faster than the speed of light. Planet Earth itself hardly figures on the Map of Significance. The Universe — its past, its present, its future — isn’t about my ego and my inconsequential issues. So "Kayan" is about the simplicity of life and death."

""Kayan" means "being". The tattoo is a self-tribute to the simple notion of existence, my personal memento mori. Remember, thou shalt die. It's not as cynical as it sounds, it's actually a reminder of the simplicity of happiness. There are more than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The finite speed of light and the ongoing expansion of space mean that Earth doesn’t even exist for some regions of space, because space may expand faster than the speed of light. Planet Earth itself hardly figures on the Map of Significance. The Universe — its past, its present, its future — isn’t about my ego and my inconsequential issues. So "Kayan" is about the simplicity of life and death."

"I consider my body like a sketchbook. Anything that matters or appeals to me I'll get it as a tattoo to be a reminder of that thing. This one particular tattoo in Arabic on my right forearm is a design of my mother's name 'Dawlet' and my brother's 'Ali.'"

"I consider my body like a sketchbook. Anything that matters or appeals to me I'll get it as a tattoo to be a reminder of that thing. This one particular tattoo in Arabic on my right forearm is a design of my mother's name 'Dawlet' and my brother's 'Ali.'"

" 'Silence' describes me in so many ways. It's pure and peaceful. It's in me everywhere I go. I think we live in a loud disturbing world where people expect words, offense, back and forth, but they don't expect silence. It is truly a piece of mind and I simply feel that I'm more powerful when I'm silent." 

" 'Silence' describes me in so many ways. It's pure and peaceful. It's in me everywhere I go. I think we live in a loud disturbing world where people expect words, offense, back and forth, but they don't expect silence. It is truly a piece of mind and I simply feel that I'm more powerful when I'm silent." 

القصة قديمة، قديمة جداً، عمرها حوالي 17 عاماً.

كنتُ في ذلك الوقت، كما الكثير، وسط دوّامة الدين، السياسة، الفكر، الفلسفة إلخ.. كانت الأحداث حينها تدفع الشباب دفعاً نحو التوجه الديني، والتعمّق به، كثيرون عن جهلٍ، عديدون بالفطرة، قليلون عن إقتناع. مذاهب وفرق مختلفة، شيوخٌ عدّة ورؤساء كُثر، كلٌّ يجزمُ بأنه على طريق الحق، والحق عنهم.. بعيد!

كنتُ حاضراً في دروسٍ عديدة، لمواضيع مختلفة، لمدّة طويلة نسبياً، ملتزماً بما إعتقدت وقتها أنه "النورُ" الذي سيضيء عتمة الطريق، طريقي، وطريق نظرائي في الدروس، إلى أن إعترضت على فتوى غريبة أصدرها شيخُ تلك الفرقة، وكان إعتراضي نابعاً من قراءاتي الشخصية لمختلف المواضيع الدينية.

الحادثة تلك، وما تبعها من وصفي "بالزندقة" كانت بمثابة جرس الإنذار الذي قرع في رأسي، توقفت عن الذهاب إلى الدروس، توقفت عن حضور الندوات والمحاضرات، توقفت عن كل شيء متعلقٌ بهذه الفرقة وبدأتُ رحلة الإستكشاف وحدي.

تناقض، تنافر، إتهامات، سُباب، تكفير، كلُّ يدّعي أنه الحق، ذلك ما وجدته في الكتب الدينية التي قضيتُ أعواماً في قراءتها،  أخذتني أعواماً نعم، ومن بعدها قررتُ ألاّ أتبع أحد في هذا، وصار شعاري مذّاك.. "لكم دينكم وليَّ دينِ".

حوادث كثيرة مررتُ بها، مواقف عديدة كذلك، أشخاصٌ مختلفون عقائدياً وفكرياً وإيديولوجيا إلتقيت، وحينَ تُسقطُ العرق والجنس واللون عنهم، تشترك معهم بالإنسانية، وهي الدين الوحيد العالمي الذي لا يوجد له نبيٌّ محدد.

تصميم الخط: غالب التعمري.

الوشم: فريد حتّر.


 

The story is old, very old indeed. It is about 17 years old.
At the time, I was engulfed – as I so often was – in religion, politics, thought and philosophy. The events that took place back then drove the youth deep into religion, predominantly out of ignorance and instinct rather than conviction. There were numerous denominations and sects with many Sheikhs and leaders, each asserting that they are on the path of truth – yet truth was far away from them.

I attended numerous classes in a variety of subjects over a considerable period of time. I was committed to what I believed to be the “light” that would illuminate the darkened path, my path, and the path of those in my classes. That was until I raised an objection to a religious edict (fatwa) that was issued by the group’s Sheikh. My objection stemmed from my own independent reading into different religious topics.
Following that incident, I was called a “heretic”, a tag that rung around my mind like a bell. I then stopped attending classes, seminars and lectures. Indeed, I stopped doing anything related to that sect. Instead, I began a journey of exploration alone.
Contradiction, disrespect, accusations, revilement, heresy, and each person claiming to be right. That is what I found in those religious books that I had spend years reading. Indeed, the process took me many years, but at the end of it I decided not to adhere to any of them. From that point, I adopted the axiom: “You have your religion and I have mine.”
A lot has happened; I have come across many different positions – doctrinal, philosophical and ideological. But when we put aside race, gender and color, we share with them a common humanity. That is the only universal religion, and it does not have a specific prophet.

Graphic design: Ghaleb Al-Taamari
Tattooing: Fareed Hatter