Walking downtown one afternoon last week I couldn’t help noticing that Montrealers have a tattoo obsession. Tattoos can be seen in all shapes and all colours, on people of all shapes and all colours. In the winter most of them were hidden unless they were inked on faces or necks, but with the arrival of warm summer weather and people scantily attired, tattoos were visible on all parts of their anatomy. Some of them are tiny, unobtrusive and inoffensive, but most are a bursting array of brilliant colours and intricate designs covering complete arms and legs sending out questionable signals. I don’t even know what the proper etiquette is if I want to approach a female and ask her if I can examine her etchings more closely. Suppose there’s part of an exposed breast showing with “Pat” inked on it. Am I supposed to assume that it’s her name or is it an invitation to do something else?

Comedienne Margaret Cho is decked out in a multitude of colourful tattoos that she proudly displays to her audience during her act. Even our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a tattoo. It’s on his left shoulder and is a design created by Robert Davidson, one of the country’s top Haida artists. Trudeau is pleased with his tattoo and would probably let you take a selfie with it. The Haida once approved of Justin Trudeau’s ink of a raven, but that was before he supported erecting a controversial liquefied natural gas terminal near the breeding grounds of one of the Haida’s biggest salmon runs. They are also angry that Trudeau did not ask permission of Davidson, or follow any protocols to use the image.

If you are considering a tattoo, carefully weigh the risks. The potential for exposure to infection and toxins is great. You can experience itching, swelling and/or redness that may persist long after the tattoo has healed. Dirty needles can pass infections from one person to another, including hepatitis B and C, and HIV. In addition, your immune system can receive an allergic response from an ink invasion. Scar tissue may also form when getting a tattoo. Ink manufacturers are not obliged to disclose the ingredients in their products. Tattoo dyes have been shown to contain lead, cobalt, iron, titanium, nickel, beryllium, barium, aluminum and mercury. When eating fish people worry about unsafe levels of mercury, yet they seem to be unconcerned about keep getting it injected into their skin in record amounts.

Regardless, tattoo parlours are flourishing throughout our city. Each one has their own artists that have become recognized for their own style and originality. The 15th edition of Art Tattoo Montreal, one of the most important tattoo events in North America, will take place on September 8-10 at Gare Windsor. More than 200 tattoo artists, coming from the four corners of the world, will bring the art of tattooing to the public. The artists at the convention will represent all styles of tattooing, ranging from the traditional Japanese tebori to dotwork. More than 10,000 visitors attend this event yearly. It will be a great opportunity for those who are curious of this art form to discover the world of tattooing and for regulars to add a new work to their bods.

While I was researching tattoos for this column, a nurse told me she was in the emergency room when a punk rocker was admitted. The young woman had purple hair styled into a Mohawk and a variety of tattoos. The girl had acute appendicitis and was scheduled for immediate surgery. When she was completely disrobed on the operating table, the staff found that her pubic hair had been dyed green and above it was a tattoo saying, “Keep off the grass”. After the operation, the surgeon added a small note on the dressing which read, “Sorry, had to mow the lawn.”

riben@videotron.ca

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