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Egyptian Christians get their faith tattooed

Posted by sioespain en 19 noviembre, 2010

Based in the Egyptian town of Muqattam, Gergess, a Coptic tattoo artist, is renowed throughout the country for his intricate, Christian icons.
In Egypt, cohabitation between Muslims and Coptic Christians is a regular source of tension. The recent hostage-taking in a Baghdad church caused a tense situation to boil over into a bloodbath. The terrorists involved were demanding the release of two Coptic women, recently converted to Islam, who had been kidnapped to a monastery in Egypt.
The Coptic community is one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. Despite difficult periods and mass migration, particularly towards North America, Copts constitute a significant minority, representing somewhere between 10 percent of the population (according to the official sources) and 17 percent (according to the Coptic Church of Egypt).

“I find it deplorable that Egyptian society is ceasing to be a real melting pot”

Maryam Montague is an American who has lived in Morocco for nine years. She is a photographer and works with a journalism training centre in Egypt. She shares her travelling experiences in her blog.
For the past five years, I have been travelling regularly in Egypt. Each time I have taken the opportunity to explore a new place. My last trip was just one week ago. I had heard about Muqattam, which is in the suburbs of Cairo. It’s a very poor area, mainly inhabited by Coptic Christians, but is also the municipal rubbish dump. People live amongst the household waste and pork entrails (they were very affected by a pig cull in April 2000). But the neighbourhood is also known for its church placed high upon the hill overlooking the town, and for its tattoo artist, Gergess, who has already featured on the pages of many magazines. I was very curious to go and visit this place which contains so many contradictions to see for myself.
I have always been interested by the pictorial representations of tattoos, but here my interest doubled as the images were religious in nature. Just as I had heard, the images provided by Gergess are only Christian icons: the Virgin Mary, Jesus and other forefathers of the Coptic tradition. They are first engraved into an ink stamp and printed on the chosen body part. Then, the tattooist begins to trace the lines of the stamp in tattoo ink.
Gergess takes particular care in his work: the tattoos are not simply in black ink, he has a wide range of colours to choose from in his tattoo parlour – it is quite delightful to see! He scrupulously follows hygiene rules, as many cite lack of hygiene as a reason to lambast this practice, particularly Muslims. I found this to be a particularly original way of reinvindicating his faith. When Amir, the young man in the photos, came for his tattoo, he was very sure of what he wanted. He asked to have a large tattoo of a church elder in plain view on his chest. It is quite different from a simple cross hanging about your neck.
Muqattam is a hidden gem in a dirty place: a pious and creative artisan creating religious imagery in a rubbish dump. I find it deplorable that Egyptian society is ceasing to be the real melting pot which characterised it in the 1950s. I understand that sectarianism may be appealing in the eyes of some, in that it allows an ethnic or religious group to conserve its traditions. But I regret that that means we forget what it is to be a multi-faith society. This is why I want to share my travel experiences on my blog, especially for Americans who do not really have wanderlust and a spirit of discovery.”
(Sources: France 24 News)


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