Getting Inked In Baghdad

Getting Inked In Baghdad

In one of Baghdad's popular Shia districts is a store that is making its mark in the city.

The shop owned by Iraqi Maher Yassin Hammoudi is a tattoo parlor - that sees a steady flow of customers who seek out Hammoudi's craftsmanship.

Getting inked in Iraq is something that has become increasingly popular over the years, with an increasing number of tattoo and piercing parlors opening in the capital that has a reputation for bombings rather than body art.

But setting up this kind of business hasn't been straight forward for Hammoudi in a conservative society where many frown upon the etchings.

"In 2009 or end of 2008 a group of young men came to me asking if I had made a tattoo of the American flag, telling me that it is prohibited. I did not know the affiliation of the group. I told them I did not and we had a heated argument and a fight. It was socially unacceptable because it is viewed as something against traditions, but the situation has changed now, thank God. It is much better than before. Now no one meddles in someone else's affairs. Now people have more freedom, people have a choice about what they do,'' Hammoudi said.

Religious icons are the most in demand designs, according to the 30-year old tattooist, with customers requesting religious sayings or an image of a Shia imam.

"Demands differ according to seasons. In summer, demands on tattoo go up as people wear half sleeve shirts, while demands dwindle in winter; but in general business is good. We close the shop in certain days of Muharram, while during feasts our business thrives. During Muharram demands on tattoos of Ahlul Beit (Prophet Mohammed's relatives) increases, while during Christmas and the New Year seasons demands increase on the pictures of Jesus Christ and the like,'' said the self-taught artist.

The body art isn't only reserved for men, a service is offered to female customers from the comfort of their own homes.

"Because it is a popular district, women cannot come here to get a tattoo; it is embarrassing, so, we take our tools and go to their homes or places of their work or to any other place of their choice to do them tattoos. They choose a painting in advance and we agree and then we go to them,'' explained the tattooist.

Hammoudi initially set up shop from his home fifteen years ago, where he started out tattooing his family and friends. But as demand for his services increased he opened his store four months ago in the northern Baghdad district of al-Hurriya.

The trend is particularly popular among young Iraqis.

But Hammoudi is aware of the how Iraqi society views tattoos, and often advises customers to have an etching on a body part that can be covered.

Tattoos start from 15 U.S dollars and vary depending on the size and intricacy of the design.