Tattooing in Africa dates back to 2000 BCE, when ancient Egyptians began the practice. The artform thus enjoyed a long and rich history throughout the continent, which can still be seen today. Forget about the classic tribal tattoos; there are plenty of cool, contemporary tattoo trends in Africa that are worth exploring before getting inked.
Watercolours and Geometric Lines
South Africa is a tattoo hotspot. Though this may come as a surprise to some people, Cape Town, the legislative capital of the country, is ranked first overall on the YEAY Global Tattoo Index. Measuring cost and accessibility, the index scored Cape Town higher than such tattooing utopias as Miami Beach, Las Vegas, and Kuala Lumpur. It also scored Johannesburg at number 11.
This means that the majority of African tattoo trends are circulating in its southernmost country. One such trend noticed by South African tattoo artist Devin Gouws is watercolours. A trend that ostensibly originated in the U.S., watercolour tattoos, like the paintings, are characterised by soft colors and undefined lines. Another trend noticed by Gouws is geometric lines, a style in stark contrast to watercolours.
Stick and Poke
But let’s not allow South Africa to hog the entire tattoo spotlight. Other African cities on the tattoo index include Windhoek, Namibia (number 18), Cairo, Egypt (number 27), and Luanda, Angola (number 42). Since these cities are similarly metropolitan, you might have to dive deep into their respective tattoo scenes to discover this next trend, but it’s a trend nonetheless. Stick and poke is a form of tattooing that uses a sharpened stick dipped in ink rather than an electric gun. While archaic, this method is popular among tattoo traditionalists and risk-takers across the continent. These people aren’t restricted to grass huts, either. There are stick and poke practitioners and customers in Cape Town proper, but they keep a low profile for obvious reasons.
Progress and Education
The first tattooing school in North Africa opened its doors in January 2019. The National School of Tattooing, located in Tunis, Tunisia, was founded by Fawez Zahmoul in an effort to make tattooing a respected profession in the Muslim-majority country. The opening of the school followed the opening of Tunisia’s first legal tattoo studio, which was also founded by Zahmoul. At the National School of Tattooing, students can earn a graduate certificate which makes them professionals in the repressed field. Though the school is under the watchful eye of Tunisia’s government, which can close the institution on a whim, its existence alone proves that attitudes toward tattoos are changing. For this reason, the most important tattoo trend in Africa is rising acceptability in tattoo-hostile countries.
Africa is a diverse country with diverse attitudes towards tattoos. In the south, tattooing is a popular and esteemed practice. In the north, it is mostly illegal. This means that tattoo trends are just as diverse as the attitudes they inspire, running the gamut from watercolours to geometric lines to the stick and poke method to educational institutions.