The Only Difference is the Distance

Ahoy-hoy, ModBloggers! Hope your Saturday is treating you well. I’m just in and out at the moment, but I wanted to quickly share this gorgeous portrait of Dave‘s. It’s not of anyone in particular, but, as he explains:

I, like so many of our community members, have been totally fascinated with tribal cultures and their ideas of body art and beauty. In all simplicity this tattoo is my way of paying homage and showing people what body modification means to me and showing where my roots in this industry lay.

From a technical standpoint, I’m very curious to see how the huge amount of white holds up in the long term. I’ve got high hopes, though—I really love the look of this piece.

Enjoy your day, folks, and go on, gimme some fresh new eyes.

(Tattoo by Daniel Jones at Asylum Studios in Salem, Virginia.)

See more in Portrait Tattoos (Tattoos)

64 thoughts on “The Only Difference is the Distance

  1. it’s a great piece! however, i don’t understand why people refer to body modifications as tribal. all that is doing is perpetuating racial stereotypes. take any african studies course (or any minority group for that matter) and open your eyes to the implications (direct or indirect) such terms can endorse. it simply does not do any justice for the ethnic groups it’s meant to portray.

  2. #3:
    “showing people what body modification means to me”
    It’s concerning his personal view here :]
    And, you do understand why people refer to them as tribal, but you mean that they SHOULDN’T. Why people would think mods are tribal, is obvious…

  3. I, too, don’t think referring to this type of imagery as “tribal” or the body modification they practice as “tribal” either. Describing an indigenous culture as “tribal” merely denotes the way they organise socially, it’s not a way of describing cultures.

    It’s fine and dandy to pay homage to a particular influence you’ve had. But if you only know the culture through textbooks and National Geographic documentaries, then you can’t really know the culture at all. Seeing an indigenous person’s stretched earlobes might have sparked your interest in body manipulation and what not, but that’s not what a culture is about. An having a portrait of an indigenous person on your body just smacks of the antiquated “noble savage” concept which all of us trained anthropologists cringe at.

    The tattoo itself is cringe-worthy. It’s like a piece of tourist art you’d buy on your way through Africa or something.

  4. “I, like so many of our community members…” : )

    and no, i don’t really understand why they would think mods as tribal. not all ethnic groups had such body modifications. in fact, a very small minority had such “exotic” features. i can’t see how referring to what you are doing with your body as something tribal, or of tribal origin, is in any way beneficial. if anything it can promote a negative view the general population may have towards the modded community and will not serve very well to foster its growth and acceptance. the term also carries misleading historical and cultural assumptions and most definitely blocks accurate views of african realities. using tribe (or tribal) does not contribute at all to understanding one’s identity.

  5. I’m totally diggin it.

    Max: MANY cultures participated in body modification, some just little things, others a lot. But in no way would I say that a small minority participated in body modification. I don’t see how referring to body modification as being tribal in origin is not beneficial. Why does it have to be either? It’s good to know the history of something you love and enjoy. If that thing is body modification then it makes sense to look back at past cultures and see how it all started and what form it took. I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with understanding your own identity, not unless you are of tribal decent. Also I think the fact that you think saying something is of tribal origin will some how hurt the modified community or alienate us even more is a bit sickening. If anything, I would think proving that body modification goes back a long way in history would make people see it less as a thing just for freaks or weirdos.

  6. “Tribal decent”? Firstly, it’s descent. Secondly, you can’t be of tribal descent. “Tribal” doesn’t denote a particular ethnic group, it’s a descriptive term for the social structure of a particular ethnic group. Bod mod was never “tribal” in origin. It’s never been “tribal”. Some ethnicities have practiced body modification but that doesn’t make the practice “tribal”.

    I despise the way Western societies call non-Western indigenous cultures “tribal”. It’s almost a derogatory term because of all the “primitive” and “non-advanced” connotations inherent in it.

  7. VOMIT:

    i think we’re all arguing different things here. yes, i agree with you that many culture partake in it and that its not culturally specific but you’re missing my point.

    anyways, i’m arguing about the social and cultural ramifications the word implies, the effects it has on any given societies (specifically those located on western hemisphere) perspective of ethnic groups of people; a perspective that is distorted. you are taking this too personally. i’m not going to bother continuing with what i have to say if it’s getting your pants in an emotional knot. all i was trying to say is that i did not think tribal, tribe, or any variation of it is a fitting word. i’ve done some research for professors on this, and was just trying to facilitate some kind of discussion on a topic that is very much imperative to african studies and the social sciences in general. if this is so “sickening” for you that you can’t separate your emotions from your thoughts then i will stop.

    if you are going to reply with an emotionally-charged response shitting on this well respected academic topic… then don’t bother because my intentions were not to shit on yours. i simply questioned.

  8. Well what I think is:
    #1) Very beautiful piece. I honestly love it.
    #2) Why are you arguing about someone’s mod? It’s not yours and not all people think alike, and never will. If they did, no one would have tattoos or piercings, or everyone would have the same ones as everyone else. This site is for the appreciation of the beauty of the mod it’s self, not to dog people for what they think or why they did the mod. Do you question the people that do self amputations? Okay then.

    Stunning though and nicely done. I like how one of the plugs is missing.

  9. #12) If you read properly he is not questioning the modification but the terminology that seems to be commonly used among this community. Next time you all start ostracizing an individual, maybe you should try to actually THINK about what he is saying. Think critically and objectively as emotions cloud judgment and the credibility of your logic.

    In terms of the piece itself, I think that it is simply beautiful. Very realistic with an interesting use of colors. I LIKE!

  10. CHONG- i think the empty one is just a tunnel other wise it would sag instead of being nice n round

  11. bob no one plug is missing. think about it if your years were 2″ since you were like 5 they would stay pretty well shaped with out plugs too. i trying hard to get an image of the original picture but my connection is very slow tonight. lol Aly. Nerd.

  12. SURMA!!!! SOOO COOL! :) I just did make up inspired by this tribe for my theatrical make up class in Uni. The tribe is also famous for their lip discs and stretched lobes. Dig it.

  13. Jeeeeeeeesus maybe he’s just not a trained anthropolgist. Can’t say I know many who are! I agree that if you really feel it promotes negative connotations of these groups of people then by all means point it out and say nicely, hey, why not try using a different word? But if it’s something he feels moved by then I cannot see why it wouldn’t make a wonderful piece. Plus it’s awesomely executed.

  14. stands on top of a hill in the uk and screams “giles, where are you?”

  15. p.s i love the expression the kid has on his face “whataya looking at pale skin”

  16. I think one thing to keep in mind during this discussion is that a lot of people are referring to “tribes” and “tribal” modification practices as things that have happened in the past. People seem to be saying that these are the historical roots of body modification without recognizing that these cultures still exist. This kind of wording reinforces a racist, western, superiority by suggesting that our practices have surpassed these primitive historical roots.

  17. Wow!!! I just noticed that the description of this portrait says that, “It’s not of anyone in particular.” That is clearly false, since you just posted a photograph of the precise person that this is a portrait of. This is a real person with a real life, not “random tribal primitive X.” I think that the body modification community as a whole needs to think more carefully about the implications of their misappropriations of other people’s cultures. Paying homage to a particular aesthetic practice that you find inspiring is one thing. But taking a living person from a living culture and reducing them to a nameless symbol of something that you think looks rad is a problem.

  18. Max: I don’t see how the word “tribal” can be offensive or racist, seeing as how many difference races have lived in tribes over the years, it’s not just Africans. Celtic tattoos are often referred to as “tribal” tattoos, and they are from white people. Plus, if you don’t want people to use the word “tribal” to generally describe body modification practiced mainly by people who lived in tribes, then how would you live to refer to them? As primitives? Because that is definitely more offensive than the word tribal. When summing up the origins of body modification you’ve got to use some word to concisely do it, you can’t list the name of every culture and every single tribe that practiced body modification. Also just because I thought your one statement was sickening doesn’t mean that I am being even remotely emotional. I simply think you went right into bitching about someones tattoo and acting all Superior for very little reason.

  19. Jason: I do agree with you on what you just said. In certain cases I do see why someone could take that tattoo as offensive, like the reason you just stated. But the other reasons Max and other people are throwing out there just do not seem to make much sense, and seem to be coming from seriously overly sensitive people.

  20. it’s not being mellow dramatic, it’s being realistic. any competent african studies (some of whom have roots in such ethnic groups) scholar or social scientist will tell you that such a term should never be used to portray such cultures.

    read some academic journals on the topic and educate yourself. you will then realize the inherent racism you are attaching to such ethnic groups.


  21. Jason, all the explanation and debate in the world won’t change BME and IAMers attitudes towards misappropriating other cultures. I tried for years, seriously, to change attitudes towards the theft of taa moko but only ever got shat on for it. Keep in mind that 99% of people are on BME for its “cool” factor and the fashion of it all, people with no real substance, so they’ll never really understand what the fuss is all about.

    “But taking a living person from a living culture and reducing them to a nameless symbol of something that you think looks rad is a problem.”

    Never a truer sentence typed here.

  22. You don’t have to be an African Studies Scholar to recognize that reducing complex cultures to a single, sensationalized, image is problematic.

  23. vomit:

    read literature on the topic before discounting it. i highly doubt you have, because then you wouldn’t ask such silly questions. if you read properly i was not talking about how i disliked his tattoo. in fact, i said i liked it. i was focusing on terminology. i don’t know how many times i have to reinstate that for you to understand.

    and you refer to such groups not as tribes but as ethnic groups (once again, read what i write). i have studied the languages of some of these cultures, including swahili, and the word you love to use to describe them, tribe, does not exist in their language.

  24. i completely agree with you guys (jason and jon p).

    jason: “Paying homage to a particular aesthetic practice that you find inspiring is one thing. But taking a living person from a living culture and reducing them to a nameless symbol of something that you think looks rad is a problem.”

    exactly why i initiated the discussion. but it seems many people on here don’t really understand this. it’s sad actually.

  25. Not to distract from the discussion at hand, but…

    John P:

    I have had some similar experiences here. One of my really big pet peeves is the misuse of the “Borneo rose.”

  26. in my defense the only thing i said about this image was in the highlighted section. I wish i could meet this young man. I dont know who he is but hes certainly more then a nameless face.

    max i didnt realize i was responsible for the entire worlds racism. i wish this modblog would be deleted cause you are ruining this tattoo for me. dick

  27. Look man, there is no reason that this conversation should ruin this tattoo for you. I think that we are just trying to have a critical discussion about some important issues that affect many participants in the body modification community.

    Your tattoo is really well done. It is truly beautiful and I hope that you get a great deal of joy out of it.

    However, I still think it is important for all of us to really carefully consider our relationships to our body modifications and to the political implications of our actions in general.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with this tattoo. But I think we all need to check ourselves on the ways we talk and think about these kinds of body modifications and others that similarly walk a fine line between appropriate admiration and cultural appropriation.

    It is important for all of us to be able to talk about where we think that line is because this is a really important issue.

  28. David-pay no attention to these philistines that want to hate on your tattoo.You know what it means to you right? You know your not a racist jerk right? That’s good enough for me

  29. I love it when the issue of cultural appropriation is raised. Most people never give it another thought. The fact that people don’t even want to consider the fact that the way they talk belittles cultures they supposedly “admire” (without even knowing anything more than a textbook description of said culture) is evidence enough of the thoughtlessness of the herd.

  30. Listen Max, calling a person racist just because he used the world “tribal” is ridiculous and pathetic.
    “Tribal” is a term that has been used in body modification for over a decade and became a part of the terminology (like “tribal tatoos”), so giving shit to a particular person for using it is just lame. Whenever you like it or not, a great deal of indigenous people practicing heavy body modification did live in tribes and that’s where the term came from. For me both “tribal” and “primitive” are highly positive terms, and in my opinion implying that “living in tribe” and “being primitive” is negative is racist. I find it funny that you’re showing off your academical knowledge by saying what i find an utterly racist statement:

    “i can’t see how referring to what you are doing with your body as something tribal, or of tribal origin, is in any way beneficial. if anything it can promote a negative view the general population may have towards the modded community and will not serve very well to foster its growth and acceptance”

    As for “stealing” tatoos as someone mentioned here: i find the idea that you can’t tatoo something if you don’t belong to that culture extremely opressive and conservative. If people feel free to tatoo something that they feel drawn to, find beautiful and inspiring doesn’t mean they “steal” it. Should we all stick to what only has been practiced in a “white” culture? For example, I don’t feel belonging to “white” culture neither. And what about dreadlocks or mohawks – are “white” people allowed to have them?

    For many people, body modification has been a lot about respect, appreciation and admiration for cultures that are otherwise dismissed and neglected by our society.
    However, having said all that, i do see that there is a problem of “objectification” of indigenous cultures, but really, targeting a particular person who used the term “tribal” which is like one of the most used terms in body modification even if you find it inadequate and calling him racist is being dramatic and mean.

  31. Hey now, it’s a legitimate qualm to have when calling a bod mod “tribal”. Sure, ‘neo-tribal’ is a style of tattooing, but anything other than that isn’t a ‘tribal’ mod. Just cos you stretch your septum and stick a spike in it, which might make you feel ‘tribal’, doesn’t make it ‘tribal’. Just because indigneous people lived in tribes, and some still do retain some form of tribal social structure such as Maori in Aotearoa/NZ, doesn’t make everything they did ‘tribal’.

    It’s not racist, because there’s no such thing as ‘races’. Ethnicities, sure. So perhaps you’re exhibiting a form of ethnocentrism by calling other cultures ‘tribal’. But we’re all guilty of being ethnocentric.

    Susan: Just because you might have some wispy hippy-esque ideas about what being ‘tribal’ and ‘primitive’ means and how those terms connote only positive things to you, you’re wildly off the mark if you think indigenous peoples enjoy being called ‘primitive’. In order to be ‘primitive’ you must be in contrast to some ‘advanced’ culture. And saying indigenous cultures are in any way less ‘advanced’ than Western cultures is pathetic. You might like the idea of a ‘return to Nature’ or whatever concept those two terms conjure in your mind, but that’s an antiquated and hurtful attitude to have. The Noble Savage is dead and we should all be glad and fight to keep it that way. I know Maori don’t enjoy having people look at them as some kind of ‘primitive’ culture that’s closer to Nature than anyone else. How do I know this? I’m Maori.

  32. Obviously the “noble savage” is not dead (otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation). There is very clear evidence that this racist stereotype persists all over IAM.

  33. My mother was Native American. Born on a reservation.
    In my case, am I being untrue to my own by not being offended when I see someone who doesn’t appear, physically, to represent the stereotypical “American Indian” wearing “tribal” jewelry in the style of the Navajo? Or someone who might be sporting a tattoo of a young Navajo tribesman?

    It doesn’t bother me. I don’t know those people. Maybe they are fascinated by the culture. Or have a wife/husband who is Native American. Maybe they just think it’s cool. Or maybe they DO have an image in their minds of a “nobel savage” Why should I call them on it? Why should I whine about what random people who do not affect my life what-so-ever think?
    So they think I knaw on a buffalo skin in my spare time.
    Big deal.

    I also tend to think of the word “tribal” as positive. Much as the word “family”. Of course that’s being over-simplistic…and um, positive.

    I think the tattoo is beautiful.

  34. Don’t bitch.

    I think he thought more about the idea behind this tattoo, then 80% of the other people in the world who getting a tattoo.

    (Scrappy English, I’m just awake, get over it :’))

  35. From the latest entry in Jon P’s blog:

    “We treat the Earth and each other like shit. We deserve to be totally fuckin’ destroyed. I dream that this so-called Swine Flu pandemic that the WHO has just declared wipes out a third of the human population. I hope beyond hope that it is selective and wipes out the ignorant and mediocre, those who’ll acheive nothing. Thin out the fuckin’ herd, PLEASE! But leave those of us behind who see something better, unhindered by utopian delusion. We’ll do a better job than those who fucked things up in the past.”

    Lessons in human empathy and cultural appropriation are strange bedfellows indeed for (adolescent) delusions of grandeur. I know Jon P that you’re quite the budding scholar, so could I be so bold as to direct your attention to the thought of Sir Isaiah Berlin, from whom you would do well to learn:

    “[Y]ou must realise that if you use violent methods the result will almost invariably be totally different from what you intend. Why? Because too much is unknown – not because you are wrong. The abuses are abuses, the tyranny is a tyranny, it should be stopped, it can be stopped; but if the measures are too violent – that’s to say, if you believe in the possibility of a total or even three-quarters transformation of society by organised means, if need be by violence – you will find that you’ve heaved up forces of whose existence you were probably not aware, which will in some way frustrate your designs and produce something maybe better than there was before, but not what you wanted.”

    Stay safe, and avoid excessive consumption of Fanon.

  36. For more information on the logical fallacy known as “Poisoning the Well” follow this link.

    The following is a quote from this web page.

    Poisoning the Well

    “This sort of “reasoning” involves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be it true or false) about the person. This “argument” has the following form:”

    “Unfavorable information (be it true or false) about person A is presented.
    Therefore any claims person A makes will be false.”

    “This sort of “reasoning” is obviously fallacious. The person making such an attack is hoping that the unfavorable information will bias listeners against the person in question and hence that they will reject any claims he might make. However, merely presenting unfavorable information about a person (even if it is true) hardly counts as evidence against the claims he/she might make. This is especially clear when Poisoning the Well is looked at as a form of ad Homimem in which the attack is made prior to the person even making the claim or claims. The following example clearly shows that this sort of “reasoning” is quite poor.”

  37. Note to modbloggers:

    Jason’s approach to this discussion is the BEST I’ve ever seen on here. No personal attacks, emotional reactions, or any “my education/knowledge/experience trumps your education/knowledge/experience” attitude.

    Let’s all try to emulate that so we can have a positive learning experience, hmmmm? :)

    and as someone already mentioned…..

    appropriate that shit!! haha.

  38. I feel like the fact that so many people are arguing over this single tattoo and what “culture” inspired it is ridiculous. Those that are trying to defend the whole “tribal” issue and how it shouldn’t be used as a “symbol” for something, good for you. we got your opinion. don’t keep dragging on the b.s. because you want to show off how witty and insightful you are. get over it. the tattoo looks good. he was inspired however he was inspired. there is no need to try and denounce how someone else portrays their passion. get over yourselves please.

  39. David: never let others ruin something so beautiful for you! It’s absolutely captivating to me… you just gotta learn to let assholes be assholes. How do you think I feel with having a “tramp stamp”?

    Your tattoo is gorgeous, and they’re whiny bitches who didn’t think of it first :)

  40. Deffinition of “witty” from
    “Synonyms: 1, 2. droll, funny, original, sparkling, brilliant. See humorous.”

    There is nothing “witty” about calling attention to racism. There is nothing “whiny” about calling attention to racism.

    I am trying to be very calm and evenhanded in this discussion and I am trying to present my arguments very clearly. I have said that there is nothing inherently wrong with the tattoo and it is beautifully done. I just think that people need to carefully consider how they talk about other cultures and how they participate in racist forms of domination. That is all.

  41. See, it’s a very ingrained attitude being exhibited here. The oppressors, or those who live from the fruits of oppression, will always belittle those who draw attention to, or seek to right the wrong of, their oppressive attitudes and behaviours. Call it a WASP culture or whatever you want, but the dominant White culture that controls how indigenous people live their lives will always see them as subservient and not quite equal. You can tell that by the way everyone dismisses the discussion surrounding the inherently racist/eurocentric nature of the term ‘tribal’.

    Poo poo it if you will, but it doesn’t make it an less true or important.

  42. blah blah oppressors blah blah wasp blah blah racist blah blah eurocentric

    just let the man enjoy his tattoo

  43. Oh that’s right, I forgot. BME’s just for people to oogle at tatts and never critically discuss anything. Fuck, we can;t even outrightly say a tattoo’s shit when it is without someone getting offended. Grow a spine ya pussies.

  44. I just wonder how would (the white) people here react if someone had the face of a white person, say someone famous or maybe just your mother, tattooed on them and then claimed that “it’s not of anyone in particular”? White people are allowed to have identities and be individuals, while people of colour are often seen as representing something – in this case, the “roots” of body modification culture.

    My thanks for max, jon p and jason for making discussion.

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