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Stigma Against Tattoos

I think anywhere you go to in the world, there will always be this horrible stigma against tattoos. Based on the little travelling I've done, I can tell you that it happens more in Asia than anywhere else. Take my visit to India in 2007 as an example. In Bangalore, I got stopped three times by customs officers and their local police. In Mumbai, I got stopped so many times from the plane to the baggage collection that I lost count!! Though it was not for wrong reasons, they were genuinely interested in my tattoos and wanted to know why I was in their country. If it's one thing I've learnt on that trip, the lovely people of India totally dig the elephant tattoo on my right arm.

Ok, let's talk about Singapore and tattoos in general. It doesn't take a genius to come to a conclusion that tattoos are now a trend. Just take a walk down Orchard Road and you'll see lots of people with ink. Some with tiny little tattoos, some with modest sized ink and some like myself with sleeves. We are everywhere and we are the tattooed community of Singapore that is growing by the day! True fact!

On Wednesday night while at Ang Mo Kio central, I was called over by this dude as I was walking back to this fast food joint. He flashed his police indentification card and said they were from the C.I.D's Secret Society Branch (SSB). There were lots of people walking by but unfortunately, I was chosen for the screening. Was I singled out because of my tattoos or my skin color? Regardless what anyone says, I know the damn answer! They asked for my ID and "Which gang are you from, now or in the past?" and "what does the tattoo on your neck mean?" are just two of the questions I was asked. Total waste of time if you ask me but I know they were just doing their job.

A few weeks ago, I got into a lift at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 and an old couple were in it. As the lift door was closing, the woman repeatedly pressed the 'open door' button and she got out with her husband. She had PANIC written all over her saggy face! For heavens sake, I was carrying my son and had a  huge ass bag on the other arm. What could I have possibly done?? But you know, I laughed it off and I hope she didn't get a heart attack or a stroke. Heh!

The golden question on the local tattooed community's mind would be "Is the Singapore government against tattoos?". I think that is a question they (the Govt) need to answer someday in the near future. Other than religious reasons, I don't know why someone or an organization would be against this ancient art form.

People will always criticize what they don't understand. How many people would go out of their way to find out more about something before they pass judgement? With that said, it's up to the tattoo community to educate the general public. You can't just sit there and bitch that people don't understand us and they don't give this 'art-form' enough credit. Life just doesn't work that way!

One of the reasons I started working on the internet show Skin Art was because I wanted to help people understand why we do what we do. In my humble opinion, the show was a huge success though we only aired five episodes. It blows me away each time someone comes up to me at an event or on the streets and they proclaim their love for the show. Now if only the Media Development of Authority of Singapore (MDA) could give us a valid reason for coming down hard on regarding the show. I think it's time MDA stops being anal. It makes Singapore being a cosmopolitan city sound like a big fat joke! Seriously!

What are you views on the stigma against tattoos? If you aren't from Singapore, I'll love to hear how it is in your country. I'll be calling in to 91.3's The Married Men show tomorrow morning to talk about tattoos. That should be anytime between 7 to 8am. Tune in if you can!


  1. I'm from Indonesia and currently working in Jakarta. My tattoo was done while schooling in Australia but it's rather small. Being a Muslim and in a Muslim country, tattoos are not accepted here. You won't want to show off your tattoos knowing the shit you'll get. So stigma definitely exists here. It's possibly worse than your country.

  2. nice read. you're spot on noel!

    .a tattooed singaporean.

  3. well, it cant be denied tt they do look intimidating, especially full sleeve tats and stuff. Living in Singapore for such a long time, it shld be quite evident by now that censors are a lot stricter than in many other countries and that tattoos still have a rather negative connotation in this society (and many others as well actually).

    the fact that it IS true that it is a common practice for gangs to have tattoos as a sign of membership. i think its understandable sometimes that pple react the way they do. just wanna say, that having chosen to get tattooed in this society, you might have guessed that this was going to happen.

    regardless, i love tattoos and can just imagine your frustration. Loved Skin Art and do feel that it is a pity that it has to be cancelled. all i can say is to keep up what you're doing, educating the general public. hopefully in time to come, people will be more accepting of differences.

  4. My tattoos are strategically placed on my rib and on my back so I haven't got any experiences getting stopped by the authorities demanding to know which gang I am and/or in. I have, however, been stopped by a fistful of religious zealots who apparently think that my facial and body piercings are a complete disgrace to mankind..!

    I am from Malaysia. North Borneo to be specific - people are getting tattooed and pierced by the masses here but living in a Muslim country has its price.

  5. Desarus: Hello Indonesia!!!! I can imagine how its like over there. I've been to Malaysia a few times and I get cold stares all the time.

    I have three tattoos that were done in Bali. I guess being a Hindu island, the culture is different and tattoos are accepted because the island is packed with tourists. Ever thought of getting a job there? Heh!

    Anyway, thanks for leaving a comment and hang in there! =)


    Anonymous 1: Thanks!!!


    Anonymous 2: You're totally right! I've seen some folks with full sleeves and they do look intimidating! Wanna hear something funny? Most of us are just softies on the inside. Or so I've heard...

    I knew what I was getting myself into when I got my first sleeve. But deep down inside, I was hoping that things would change. The good thing is that it's slowly changing. We're on the right track for sure...

    Thank you for watching and supporting Skin Art. It'll always be my little baby and it'll be back for sure someday. :)


    Ana Jonessy: You're from North Borneo? Oh wow!!! I've always wanted to visit Borneo. From the documentaries and many pictures I've seen, it's a beautiful place! I met a tattooist from Borneo not too long ago. Pretty cool guy...

    The Borneo Headhunters have been tattooing for ages so I'm surprised you would get slack for your piercings. Just a question, what religion is practiced in Borneo? My wild guess is that the Headhunters aren't Muslims...

  6. Just say HI,

    nice blog. I'm from indonesia in west sumatera.

    i hope some day i we can meet.


  7. I'm not from Singapore but my girlfriend and I visited it for a week last month. We're caucasian and pretty visibly tattooed. I must say we got pretty much the same looks as we'd get in Amsterdam for example. People were checking us out from the corner of their eyes, and some people gave us dirty looks, but we also got "hey, nice tattoo" remarks.

    These were run-ins with local people, we didn't really have encounters with the police or anything, so I can't comment on that. Also, the fact that we were obviously tourists probably made a difference in the looks/comments we got from people.

    I guess there are close-minded people all over the world, Singapore isn't an exception!

  8. Makaila: Hi Makaila! Thanks for saying hi. Sure, I'll love to meet up someday down the road. Plan to visit Singapore soon?

    Anonymous: Hope you enjoyed Singapore! It's raining a lot more this year but I hope the rain didn't dampen your stay.

    You get looks in Amsterdam? Wow! I figured Holland would be alright. I visited Amsterdam in the 90's but I didn't have much ink then.

    Singapore like many other countries in Asia, is still a conservative country. And that's cool because it keeps the culture intact. Thailand however seems liberal when it comes to ink.

    For the record, I don't get stick from my fellow Singaporeans. I'm extremely comfortable with my tattoos and my tatts are always a good ice breaker. I try to stay away from the elderly just in case I give them a heart attack! LOL!


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