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Egypt tattoo artists meet in Cairo, aim to break taboos

AP , Wednesday 24 Dec 2014
Tatto
In this Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 photo, Italian-Venezuelan 27-year-old Orne Gil, owner of 'Nowhere Land Tattoo Studio,' tattoos 25-year-old Egyptian Tamer el-Strafy at the studio, in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)
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In Egypt, where tattoos are widely considered taboo, organizers have held a convention to challenge stereotypes and show-off the ink designs as an art form.

Enthusiasts met over the weekend in the city's leafy upscale Zamalek neighborhood to check out the latest designs and watch the pros at work at the 2014 Cairo Tattoo Expo.

Organizers say they hope to showcase the artistic side of the practice, which is loosely regulated in Egypt and mostly performed by artists using licenses for beauty parlors.

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In this Friday, Dec. 19, 2014 photo, a man looks at accessories at the entrance of 'Nowhere Land Tattoo Studio,' in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

Timur Reda, 38, who has been tattooing in Cairo for seven years, says artists like him face many challenges working openly in a conservative country like Egypt.

"There is a lot of ups and downs but you know the struggle that we face here, I think it motivates us to work harder," he said.

Many Muslims consider tattoos to be forbidden under Islamic law. Coptic Christians meanwhile, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population, have long had an association with the art.

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In this Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 photo, Egyptian 25-year-old Tamer el-Strafy takes a cigarette break at 'Nowhere Land Tattoo Studio,' in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

At the weeklong festival of Mar Girgis, or Saint George, for example, it's common to see tattoo artists inscribing crosses on the wrists of babies or images of saints on the arms of young men.

In much of Egypt's conservative and religious society though, body art is considered a taboo — and many people choose to get their tattoos in areas where they can be hidden with clothes.

Only an estimated 100 people attended the weekend convention in Cairo, fewer than what organizer Orne Gil had hoped for.

"It is a really small step but it's our first step here and maybe next year it will be better and bigger in another place," she said. The convention was held at her studio, Nowhere Land, which opened last March.

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This Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014 photo, shows sketches and notes pinned on a board at 'Nowhere Land Tattoo Studio,' in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

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In this Friday, Dec. 19, 2014 photo, Italian-Venezuelan 27-year-old Orne Gil, owner of 'Nowhere Land Tattoo Studio,' tattoos Egyptian-American 30-year-old Zayn Amer, a teacher based in Iraq, at the studio in Cairo, Egypt (Photo: AP)

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