Behind Algeria’s Tattoos: A Portrait Series


The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is featuring this gorgeous set of images on its website documenting elderly Algerian women with facial tattoos.

The portraits are the work of student journalist and anthropologist Yasmin Bendaas of Wake Forest University in the US.

Half-Algerian and half-Iranian, she became intrigued by her grandmother’s facial tattoos and wanted to research this symbol of cultural identity in the Aures Mountains in north eastern Algeria. Her photos document the experiences of Chaouia women from this region, who talk about the meanings behind their tattoos and how they came to have them.

The lines, dots, and shapes on foreheads, cheeks and on the back of hands were symbols of feminine beauty and good health. However, Islam’s spread throughout Algeria today has sounded the death knell for traditional tattooing, which is now found solely among the older generation. Whereas in the past the prevailing view in this culture was “a woman without tattoos is not a woman”, Islam states that tattoos are ‘haram’ or forbidden because it is a sin to permanently alter the body, so the practice is sadly dying out.

I love looking at photographs of wrinkled faces anyway because they have so much life and character, but the tattooed faces of these elegant and graceful women are something really special.  The portraits themselves are stunning, but Bendaas’ article on the impact of Islam on this ancient art form is also really interesting and worth a read for anyone who is interested in the history and anthropology of tattooing.

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