Tattoos have also gone political

Photographer Sedat Suna says tattoos have increasingly turned political lately in Turkey.

Filiz Gazi

Duvar English

Struck by the rising number of Turks tattooing their political or ideological inclinations on their bodies, Sedat Suna, a reporter from the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) has been shooting portraits of such people since June 2019.

Suna explains it began upon noticing more and more political tattoos for the past couple of years in Turkey. "With the wink of an eye, the political and social climate changes. So just like many other things, tattoos have also turned political. I wanted to depict the political and social climate from the perspective of tattoos."

The militant fringe backed out

Suna sought to reach people hailing from different segments and movements through social media and acquaintances. Some consented at first, only to back out later on. "Many said they didn't want their face to be shown in a story about political tattoos" Suna explains. "Funnily enough, those were often the most militant ones. Students back-pedalled because they didn't want their families to know."

Suna's "ideological tattoo" series features eleven portraits - only one of which is a woman.

Atatürk's signature as the all-time favorite

Tattoo artists were the most helpful in finding the portraits, Suna said. "As they have their own archives, they can trace which tattoo they have performed on each person." Suna was told the all-time favorite was the tattoo of the signature of Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. The demand for it is relentless.

"In normal times, Atatürk was not a name one would have conferred political meaning to. But because of the exceptional period we are going through, it has become highly politicized."

By the same token, a tattoo of the figure of Imam Ali - the first imam for Shia Muslims - is another example, Sedat Suna contends. One person bearing such a tattoo told Suna: "I had this tattoo made because of Imam Ali's stance against injustice. Imam Ali is my guide to justice."

Several women have also gotten tattoos as a reaction to the recent wave of femicides in Turkey.

Red star, hammer and sickle, Sultan's signature

Suna also chose to photograph uncommon tattoo figures. For instance, he wanted to shoot Che Guevera and peace-related ones, but had a hard time finding such tattoos. "Che Guevara has become a commercial icon instead of a political one. His face is everywhere on t-shirts and cigarette packs", he said.

The photographer's series also includes such symbols as the red star, the red/raised fist and the hammer and sickle. "Aside from these, I also photographed a person with a giant Ottoman signature, a tughra, on his shoulder. He was an artisan."

Suna will pursue his ideological tattoo series, as long as he is able to find more portraits. Let us publicize his quest for people here.