...What does the term body 'adornment' suggest to you? An aesthetic preoccupation akin to a cultural obsession with clothes and fashion? A vehicle for individual expression? Or a practice that reflects and sustains ideas about the broader social realm in which tattooed bodies and their persons are located? Danzig Baldaev's new book, the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia provides a shocking graphical lexicon of the body adornment of Russian convicts that provokes a radical reassessment of the term.
The book lays bare a visual communication system made up of allegorical messages and cryptic drawings that not only challenges ideas about the body but also about Russian social history. This fascinating compilation of tattoo drawings, photographic portraits and detailed diagrams introduces us to a visual language understood in and out of correctional institutions from St Petersburg to Siberia and across Central Asia. On the skin of thieves, hooligans, murderers and rapists, lies an iconography so complex that even the KGB supported Baldaev's work.