Tattoo Culture Shifts From Rebellion to Fashion at Argentine Convention

Some 40,000 people from around the globe attended the ninth annual Tattoo Show in Buenos Aires.

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Tattoo Culture Shifts From Rebellion to Fashion at Argentine Convention

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BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – Alberto Fornés, 56, calls himself the “Mago Fornés,” or the Magician Fornés, a name now famous in Argentina’s tattoo world. The thin man has become a local celebrity because tattoos cover his entire body.

“Only the bottom of the foot cannot be tattooed because walking erases it,” Fornés says.

Fornés ends his sentence with a wink as if to suggest that he has tattoos in places he cannot display to the public at the Tattoo Show. The ninth annual convention took place during the weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital. It is one of the most important tattoo events in Latin America, according to organizers.

Among his tattoos, Fornés has the date of his first tattoo, Oct. 13, 1992, which was a rose. He continued to add more tattoos to his body as a way to distinguish himself and to achieve fame.

Fornés used to devote his time to performing magic acts in clubs and bars throughout the capital.

“My dream was to be on a magazine as a magician, but they wanted to charge me for being on it,” he says.

Fornés left his career as a magician because he grew tired of working at night. Now, he earns a living as a courier for a cellphone company. And his tattoos have won him the recognition he long sought.

“When I tattooed my face, they came from all over to interview me,” he says. “I have my entire house plastered with more than a hundred articles that they did about me.”

The annual Tattoo Show in Buenos Aires draws tattoo aficionados from around the world and generates funds to send artists across Argentina to raise money for rural schools. Event organizers note a rise in the affluence of attendees as tattoos have become in style. Meanwhile, tattoo artists cite the commercialization of the art and its evolution from a sign of rebellion to a symbol of idols or loved ones. Despite the shift in motivations, tattoos link generations, as grandparents and granddaughters bonded over them at the convention.

The ninth annual Tattoo Show took place from March 8 to 10 at Hotel Bauen in downtown Buenos Aires. An estimated 40,000 people attended, says Alejandra Basualdo, head of public relations for Mandinga Tattoo Studio, which has organized the event for the past nine years. The tattoo studio prides itself on being one of the oldest in the city.

The annual show fosters an international exchange of tattoo culture.

This year’s event hosted 93 stands with more than 250 tattoo artists from around the world, including Germany, Italy, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Norway, Uruguay and Peru, Basualdo says.

Tattoo artists displayed new techniques, while attendees sought new tattoos or just watched. The event also featured parades of people in costume, rock concerts, tattoo contests and art displays.

In addition to bringing tattoo culture to Buenos Aires, the show also exports it around the country.

Part of the revenue from tickets sales funds trips for tattoo artists to visit towns in the interior of the country. There, they promote their art by doing tattoos in public areas such as the town plaza. They donate the money they raise to rural schools in these localities.

The first group of tattoo artists departs next week for the province of Santa Fé, located in central Argentina. Throughout the year, they will also travel to Salta and Jujuy, provinces in the northwestern region of the country.

Event organizers and artists say that the culture of tattoos is changing. Tattoos have become more of a mainstream style and a symbol of what is important to people than an act of rebellion.

Throughout the years, organizers have noticed the increasing affluence of those who attend the Tattoo Show, Basualdo says.

“It’s a style,” Basualdo says. “Many young people get tattooed for style.”

She says that she also sees more tattoos now in affluent neighborhoods.

“The other day, I was in the Unicenter Shopping, where before, it was not common to see people tattooed,” she says. “And it amazed me to see how many people had tattoos."

Giancarlos Villena, a tattoo artist at the convention from Peru, says that this is an international trend.

“For younger people, the tattoo is no longer an act of rebellion like it was 20 years ago,” Villena says.

Now, tattoos serve more as symbols, he says. Most people have an explanation to justify each tattoo on their body.

“Currently, there are many people who ask to have the face of an idol or of a loved one tattooed on their body,” he says.

While talking, Villena tattoos the leg of a client with the portrait of Luca George Prodan, an Italian-born musician and local rock legend who died in 1987 in Buenos Aires.

In the next stand, Fernando Bruno, 25, is also getting a tattoo on his leg. It depicts the love of his life, his 3-year-old daughter, Lara, riding in a carousel.

“I’m getting a tattoo of my daughter because when I looked into her eyes for the first time, I fell in love,” says Bruno, sitting without a shirt on and looking up from underneath a hat.

Before, the tattoo world was more intimate and rebellious. Most tattoo artists have tattoos because they got their start by practicing on themselves and then on relatives and friends, Villena says.

This is the case with Lauro Paolini, a 58-year-old Italian man selling the tattoo guns that he manufactures at the Tattoo Show. Paolini, a former tattoo artist, first practiced on a friend more than 20 years ago with a scorpion tattoo. But it was so ugly that once he got more experience, he redid it 10 years later.

Paolini considers himself part of an older generation of tattoo artists and enthusiasts driven by rebellion and passion.

“I fell in love with tattoos,” Paolini says. “When I started tattooing others when I was 35, I felt free, and the freedom was in the power to decide who to tattoo and who not to. I tattooed if I had a relationship with that person. There had to be feeling. Today, it’s all more commercial.”

Héctor Ponti also belongs to the generation that started getting tattoos out of rebellion. Although that is no longer his motivation, the passion is still present.

Ponti began getting tattoos when he was 14. Now at 49, he has 43 tattoos on his body, including on his scalp underneath his hair.

“I rebelled against my folks,” he says. “At 14 years old, since they did not let me get tattoos, I got four tattoos in one week.”

He says he also rebelled against his parents in other ways, like getting his ear pierced.

But tattoos are no longer a sign of rebellion for Ponti.

“Now, I get tattoos for pleasure, because I love it,” he says.

They are now symbols of what and who are important to him.

“All of my tattoos mean something,” Ponti says. “I have my wife, my kids and my granddaughter tattooed on my body.”

Although tattoo culture has changed, they still link generations. Ponti enjoys a Sunday at the Tattoo Show with his family – his children, Mauro and Brenda, and his granddaughter, Zaira. Brenda lies face down on a stretcher while she gets a tattoo of her favorite soccer team’s shield on her back.

“My children are tattooed,” Ponti says. “My little granddaughter isn’t tattooed, but if she tells me she wants to get tattooed, I will be happy.”