Who Did Your Ink? is the Straight’s weekly feature, where we ask badass Vancouverites about the talented artists, indelible stories, and, at times, questionable antics behind their most treasured tattoos.
What's your name? Lima Al-Azzeh.
What do you do? I'm a writer.
Who did your ink? I got most of my tattoos at New Tribe in Toronto. For some reason or another, I'm always in that city as things are changing in my life and I'm always compelled to commemorate these events while I'm there.
I hate myself for this, but I can't remember the names of either artist who did my tattoos. I was young and impetuous.
Why did you choose these artists to do your tattoo? The tattoo on my forearm was done by a woman who came highly recommended for her fine line-work. I've had it for almost 10 years and it hasn't faded or bled together one bit.
Is there any meaning behind them? The elephant on my forearm is done in Islamic calligraphy in a style that's called zoomorphic. The word is loosely defined as art that creates patterns using animal imagery. As cliché as it sounds, it was inspired by a trip a friend and I took around Southeast Asia and Australia in our early 20s. We'd both lived fairly comfortable lives and we wanted to see how well we'd survive in foreign countries on our own. We were away for about five months in total.
In Thailand, we went on an elephant ride and, being naive travelers, we didn't do our due diligence in researching the conditions under which these animals are expected to "perform". We wound up being quite upset at how poorly the elephants were treated. But it was more than that: the elephants had this uncanny humanity. They seemed to have a sense of humor. They were grand and gracious. I'll never forget the way it looked when it bowed down to us after we got off.
About a year later, I went back to visit that same friend in Toronto. I was looking for a way to commemorate the trip we had and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to honour the elephant. Maybe it was guilt. An artist friend of mine introduced me to this style of calligraphy and given that I'm Arab and Muslim, I thought it was perfect. The passage it represents is even more perfect: Sura't al Fil, a chapter in the Qu'ran about the people of the elephant.
Long story short: An evil baddy from one town threatened to storm Mecca (the holy land) and destroy the Ka'abah (the Muslim holy shrine). The villagers, unable to defend themselves against the baddy's significant army, prayed for Allah to protect their holy shrine and then swiftly evacuated the village. But when the baddy arrived with his envoy (which included several elephants), his special elephant, Mahmood, refused to storm. Instead, he bowed down. The envoy started to beat the elephant, but no matter what torture it suffered, the elephant kept kneeling.
To me, that story brought my own experience full circle. It reminds me to be humble and not take anything for granted.
The other tattoo has a shorter and much less dramatic story. The first time I met my best friend's dad was at a dinner he invited me to to get to know me better. I had just moved in with her in college. We got along famously from the first night, since it turned out she and I had a lot in common. She was regaling her dad with the story of how we basically had the exact same upbringing, even though she grew up in Seattle and I grew up around the Middle East.
The biggest laugh we got was that we both watched the same weekend cartoons, including Inspector Gadget. Except in Arabic, Inspector Gadget was known by a wholly different name: Mofatesh Waheed. She got me these tattoos for my 25th birthday (which I happened to be celebrating in Toronto—what is it about that city?) I wound up with Mofatesh (Inspector) and she got Waheed (which actually doesn't translate to "gadget" at all, it means the one or the only. It's also a fairly common name for males.)
Who is your favourite local tattoo artist? I am on the hunt for someone to do more work in a similar style!
What's next on your ink list? The hamsa. On the back of my right arm, I think. That's the intricately designed hand, typically with an eye in the middle. It's another nod to my heritage, though it's a symbol shared by many cultures. The hamsa is an amulet for protection and helps ward off evil baddies. Something tells me now might be a good time for it.