Deq, the art of tattoos

Temporary tattoos
Kurdish girls often decorate their cheeks with temporary tattoos for community events, 2004.
Image: Anna Bagdas
Source: KAV Archives

The art of adorning the face and body with tattoos has a very long history in Kurdish culture. Tattooing carries symbolism from old belief systems, such as paganism, shamanism and Zoroastrianism, overlaid with many other influences.

Traditionally, tattoos are made by mixing soot with the breast milk of a woman who has given birth to a girl and the poisonous liquid from the gall bladder of an animal. The design is drawn on the skin using a thin twig and is, with the help of a sewing needle, penetrated under the skin. Tattoos last a lifetime.

The most common tattoo symbols are those that protect against evil forces; maintain good health or cure illnesses; show tribal affiliations; and enhance beauty, sexuality and fertility. Tattoos are placed on the most significant parts of the body, such as near the mouth and nostrils, between the eyebrows and close to the breasts and genitals. Today, a decreasing number of Kurds are choosing permanent tattoos. More commonly, temporary markings are drawn on the face for special occasions and as a gesture of respect for this traditional cultural practice.

Kurds in Australia use ancient symbols for their tattoos, but they have also developed new designs. For young people, the art of tattooing is an expression of their cultural identity and a mark of respect for their elders.

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