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Sacred Skin: Thailand's Spirit Tattoos Flexibound – July 1, 2011
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Luck of the Draw
By Andrew Marshall Monday, May 23
Read more: time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2071020,00.html#ixzz1MpMZ1QpH
The introduction to Sacred Skin, Tom Vater and Aroon Thaewchatturat's new tribute to Thailand's sak yant, or sacred tattoos, begins with an agonized exclamation: "Uaaahh!" So it should. While modern tattoos are efficiently (though not exactly painlessly) applied with an electric machine, sak yant are hand-hammered into your wincing body with a long needle.
But no pain, no gain - and, if you believe the enthusiasts, the rewards are out of this world. Devotees credit sak yant with warding off sickness, attracting lovers and helping them emerge unscathed from car crashes. A housewife caught in last year's crackdown on antigovernment protesters in Bangkok tells the authors, "People around me got shot but my tattoo protected me."
Sak yant are etched onto both soul and skin, as Thai photographer Aroon's portraits record in hypnotic detail. The mostly monochromatic designs borrow from Buddhist and Hindu mythologies, and the space between them is often overlaid with an ancient Khmer script that German writer Vater likens to "mysterious instructions." Designs are executed by priestlike figures who have their own secret ink recipes and recite prayers while they work. Their customers see themselves as disciples, bound for life to their master and feeling a kinship with all those bearing his designs. Some disciples are also in thrall to the tattoo's spirit. That introductory "Uaaahh!" emanated from a man who believed he was possessed by the spirit of the tiger tattooed on his torso. Vater describes him careering around a Buddhist temple near Bangkok in a trance so violent that it took five soldiers to subdue him.
Prominent among sak yant enthusiasts are police, soldiers and gangsters, who claim bullets bounce off their magical second skin. Many Thais still associate tattoos -- even sacred ones -- with lowly or violent professions, but there are two things wrong with this view. First, explains Vater, many devotees give up lives of crime after getting sak yant, believing the tattoos' potency depends upon their living decent lives. Second, the appeal of sak yant is broadening, not just among trendy young Thais but also foreigners, partly thanks to Angelina Jolie, who has a tiger sak yant on her back.
With its stunning photos and exuberant writing, Sacred Skin will further popularize a centuries-old tradition. In Thailand, sak yant have survived decades of economic development and Western influence. After warding off these modern forces, bad luck and bullets should be easy. --Andrew Marshall, TIME Magazine (Asia Edition), May 2011
New Book Spotlights Magical Sak Yant Thai Tattoos.
Sacred Skin Thailand's Spirit Tattoos, the new two-hundred page, eight-by-ten-inch guide to sak yant protection tattoos by Tom Vater, with colour photography by Aroon Thaewchatturat, is a beautifully organized, visual treat for both tattoo artists and collectors.
Divided into easily navigable sections (Sak Yant, Master and Devotees, Sacred Images, Wai Khru the annual day of respect held in central Thailand and a helpful Glossary), this clearly-written, entertaining treatise is packed with fascinating facts and descriptions of every aspect of this time-honoured art form. But it's the photos that steal the show. Page after page of both full-body and detailed images showcase the work of leading traditional sak yant masters. This is the perfect handbook, for those of us who have long been intrigued by the magical hand-poked designs that protect the wearer from the dangers of an ever-encroaching world. --Bob Baxter. Editor in chief, tattooroadtrip.com - Baxters Blog
Aroon Thaewchatturat's extraordinary pictures do more than capture the tattoos, they capture their wearers' personalities, and perhaps even the energy invested in them by the designs. --Bangkok Post, Sunday July 31. Brunch Magazine, bangkokpost.com/arts-and-culture/book/249574/skin-deep
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
When I stumbled upon this print collaboration between author Tom Vater and photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat I was taken completely by surprised and totally mesmerized. You see, I'm not the sort of person who would have considered a tattoo and actually the thought of getting one is far removed from my bucket list... until now.
You see this book - Sacred Skin - is an extraordinary exploration of Thailand's spiritual tattoo's called Sak Yant. It's a tattoo culture that I quickly discover is totally removed from my own beliefs about the role the tattoo plays in popular culture.
The book explores an incredible world in which the concept of spiritualism and tattoo are completely entwined and you soon realize the idea of referencing one, without the other, is practically impossible whilst exploring Sak Yant.
It's the first book of its kind that looks comprehensively at this really important aspect of Thai culture, revealing incredible insight into a world layered with depth and meaning well beyond what one might expect.
The book, full of text, colour and photographs, showcases stories about sacred, spiritual tattoos said to bestow protection from accidents, misfortunes and crime. Author Tom Vater explains that `Sak Yant' is simply woven into the fabric of Thai society more so then anywhere else, and for the initiated, there is no separation of the body from the soul. He also goes on to explain there is also a strong connection between animals, mythology and religion;
"The Sak Yant devotees come in reverence and the monks and tattoo masters etch images of archaic sacred pillars and fearsome animals onto their skins.Read more ›
We, my wife and I, were being tattooed by Achan Neng, (pg. 39 in "Sacred Skin"), who I immediately felt a connection to; artist to artist. He proudly handed us the book to show us, the page of Achan Neng. We started to skim through the book, look at the photos, read some of the introduction....and decided this was a book we needed to own for our collection. Luckily Achan Neng had one book left for us able to purchase.
Suddenly the wife of Achan Neng handed the phone to me and let me know that Aroon, (the photographer) was on the line and wanted to speak with me. She invited us over for dinner, after she came to watch us get our sak yant.
We were in such a space from our tattoos when we met Aroons' husband, Tom (the writer), and their friend Hans Kemp, (who published "Sacred Skin", but were invited into their home with open arms. We were able to sit and discuss tattooing, our shop (Bruce Bart Tattooing), Achan Neng and his style, and most interestingly....how the book was born.
From these three creative individuals a culture was brought to light and a deeper meaning to the tattoo I we had just received. We brought it back to our shop and all of our artists have given this book two thumbs up, for sure. Interesting read for anyone.....but if Tattoo culture is a passion of yours, Sacred Skin is a must own.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Insightful with personal accounts on why the tattoos were chosen and written on their skin. And with more in in-depth look at the collective tattoos meanings. Great read.Published 8 months ago by Samantha
We are astounded and impressed by the fabulous and unique photographs.....and the beautifully written, informative dialogue about this Ancient, Holy treatise of this important... Read morePublished on June 11, 2013 by Bruce Bart
Fascinating book giving some rare anthropological insights into the cultural significance and popular practice of sacred tattoos or sak yant in Thailand. Read morePublished on December 4, 2012 by DM
Just finished Sacred Skin; and out of the very nice calligraphic forms which I adore, I really like your way of photographing. Read morePublished on June 8, 2012 by jan tuerlings
This book was a gift from a friend in Thailand and turned out to be a pleasant surprise because I could see so much of (southern) India in it. Read morePublished on January 30, 2012 by Moviejunkie
I highly recommend this great book full of great photos and details about people wearing this great tattoos. Enjoy !Published on October 20, 2011 by Echarri