The tattoos (1)

Shortly after meeting Nassima I pursued my destiny and my thirst for adventure: I left everything to live 12,000 km from my beloved France. This great departure for Asia is one of the best decisions of my life, because I am still there and am deeply attached to this continent and to the life that I have there. Finding Nassima has profoundly marked me for life. I needed to extend that feeling by out-warding it and marking my body voluntarily, forever.

Since i’m a kid I have a fascination for tattoos. I keep a very clear memory of the fabulous discovery in 1991 in the Italian Alps of this mummified body in the ice for over 5,000 years (he was named Ötzi). This distant ancestor was tattooed. It captivated me that his skin kept the mark of the tattoos for millennia. This man died in atrocious conditions and his tattoos remained, making him a little immortal to me. Tattooing is an old human tradition that exists since the dawn of time, and I feel totally in tune with that.

I have never seen the art of tattooing as the expression of a teenage rebellion or a phenomenon reserved for bad boys. For me, it’s using the body like a living canvass to convey something deep and personal, spiritual even. It’s a message, a story. I always knew that I was going to tattoo large portions of my skin; it was in me a certainty that went together with my search for origins. For my future tattoos to make sense, I needed to know my story first.

I took my time. I documented myself and learned from different tattoo cultures. I was first drawn to the Polynesian tattoo tradition; I’m a rugby enthusiast and many Pacific Island players are copiously tattooed. Some of them were my role models so I always looked up to their ink. I researched about their meaning. For many Polynesians, tattoos tells a family story, it’s a tribute to the ancestors. Although I was totally in sync with the symbolic, I was more reserved when it came to the particular aesthetics of this art. Exclusively in black, I had a need for colors.

This is how I gradually turned to another art: the irezumi or Japanese tattoos. Obviously I have no close or distant connection with Japan (or even with Polynesia for that matter). But I never considered that one must necessarily be linked to a culture to appropriate its tattoos. This is an art, and art is universal: you can be from a Siberian village and love New York hip-hop or live in Barcelona and be passionate about Chinese calligraphy. Art belongs to us all.

Japanese tattoos had everything to please me: bright colors, details and figurative representations. My arms were my first choice for these tattoos. The back would have given more space to the artist to represent the different symbols that I wanted but it was very important for me to be able to see my tattoos at any time, when I wanted. Over time I found in the irezumi all the symbols (from Sino-Japanese mythology) of the things and people I wanted to represent for a long time:

Left arm

  • My freedom to be and to think, represented by the whirlwind (Photo 1)
  • My second birth, symbolized by a phoenix flying off (Photo 2)
  • Two beautifully colored peonies for the women who counted in my life (Photos 3 and 4)

Right arm

  • My passion for travel and adventure, represented by water, element of the sailors and travelers (Photo 5)
  • The men who counted for me are embodied by a Koi carp fighting against the current, symbolizing love, virility and courage (Photo 6 and 7)
  • Three other peonies still for the women who counted in my life (Photo 8, 9 and 10)

During this long process of 18 months, I also tattooed on my wrist this sentence in Arabic “I am Elyes” in tribute to the name Nassima wanted to give me (Photo 11).


Photo 11

I had an incredible chance to find an exceptional artist. Augustine spent many years in Japan meticulously learning the art of tattooing. He is now a world-renowned artist and has won numerous awards at international competitions. But it is above all an amazing human being of great empathy, humility and generosity. In all, I spent more than 40 hours on his table, often to suffer during sessions of 3 or 4 hours. We talked a lot and exchanged thoughts. I loved this ritual and that special relationship that develops over time between the tattooed and the tattoo artist. He has a special place in my life and there is a lot of him in my tattoos.

Dealing with the pain has been a learning curve. It is a fight against oneself; the pain I never liked it, but I was ready to face it to mark my skin forever. This call was stronger than anything. I had really difficult sessions especially when he tattooed the bone and the inner part of the elbow. I learned a form of resilience and especially physical and mental resistance. I have never felt the strength of the synergy of body and mind as much as under the tattooist’s needle.

I have always been secretive about my adoption journey. Beyond the family circle, few of my friends know my story. Even after meeting Nassima. And then going to the other side of the world, starting at zero to build a new group of friends and my social life did not help me to open more about who I am. I kept it as a precious secret, only sharing it with friends on very rare occasions. Sometimes the question of my origins was put to me; the famous “but where are you really from?” I always ducked things by vaguely answering that my family is of a Mediterranean lineage. Which was totally false obviously, but really credible given my physical appearance.

Me who was always secretive about my adoption journey, now I was exposing myself to everyone with my arms covered with tattoos. The abstraction of the meaning gave me total satisfaction: I showed who I was without saying it, I affirmed my identity with these huge designs with shimmering colors on my arms, without having to tell or to give away who I really am. They are like an armor, which others see and admire while it’s protecting me even more. The perfect diversion: Keep everything on the surface so I don’t have to show what’s inside. I could wear a mask, it would have exactly the same effect.

I truly love my tattoos. They are me. With them my personality is complete. I will die with them.


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