Monday, November 22, 2010

Tattooed in a Church

Imagine being inside the largest medieval church in a Dutch city and walking up on a skin artist tattooing an image of Michael Jackson on a young lady’s leg.  It’s not a dream.  The Alkmaar Tattoo Convention was held this past weekend at the Grote Kerk Alkmaar (Large Church) in the city center. 

Built between 1476 – 1540 in the city center, the grand building stopped housing religious services in the mid 1990s after a decline in membership and lack of funding.  The Grote Kerk Web site now advertises the church as a “center for arts culture and social activities."

I spoke with Rob, a co-organizer of the tattoo convention, and he said that this is the fourth year of a ten-year agreement for it to be held in the old church.  He said that the 120 tattoo artists from countries like Belgium, New Zealand, Ireland, and the USA “found it magical to perform their work inside the church above grave stones on the floor dating back to the 14th century.”

Nearly 2,000 visitors came to the event this year. It seemed strange at first to see busy booths inside a church with people getting dragons and lovers’ names etched onto their skin.  “It was special to have the event there because tattoos are forbidden in the Bible and Koran,” said Rob.  He added that, “Not every church is open for this kind of convention.”  I suppose the latter is the most true statement I have heard today.

Tattoos are riding a wave of popularity and increased social normalcy in the Netherlands.  Rob attributes this to professional athletes and celebrities having tattoos visible to the public eye.  He said that tattoos started making their way more into the Dutch culture in the 1940s from sailors in port cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Den Haag.

Anyone still struggling with the idea of a church tattoo fest can find some solace in the fact that the convention gave free space to charitable fund raising.  Rob said that Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) and KiKa, a fund-raising organization for children’s cancer research, were present. 

The Grote Kerk Alkmaar

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