In Russian tattoos, the cat symbolizes a successful thief
It was just a couple of weeks ago that we brought you old-school ceramics with pictures of German nuclear power plants on them. There may be something of a trend happening here, for today our offering consists of similar ceramic plateware with astonishing illustrations derived from Russian prison tattoos.
Valeria Monis is the “multidisciplinary designer” who creates these amazing plates and vases, invariably in cobalt blue. Every object is handmade, so they are also quite individual; there is no mass production here. Monis was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and currently lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The title of Monis’ project is “From Russia With Love.” It combines “the subversive art of Russian criminal tattoos” and “traditional blue porcelain design,” bringing together “two opposed but equally important and influential strands of Russian art history.” As Monis writes of this Russian tradition, “In the criminal world, a man with no tattoos has no status. ... The illustrations they wear on their skin tells the story of their closed society, a society with its own hierarchy and social structure.”
While transmitting information to others about a person’s crimes and prison terms, the tattoos more fundamentally express a kind of folk understanding of sex, love, honor, sacrifice, and happiness. Many of the images are deeply misogynistic, bestowing warnings of the perils of “whores” and “bitches,” although others celebrate sex, orgasm, and the delights of “playing with your body.”
Not all of the tattoos are bawdy or boastful or are intended to denote status. Some of the tattoos depict visions of failure or loss, while others are markers of connubial bliss.
Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume I, by Danzig Baldaev
Monis’ source material is FUEL Publishing’s remarkable series of Russian prison tattoo books by Danzig Baldaev.
These intriguing items are available for purchase. Small plates (roughly 6 inches in diameter) cost $95 or $99, large plates (11 inches) cost $120, and the vases cost between $250 and $300.
Vologda Transit Prison, 1950s
“Girls, find yourself a generous hand. You’ll be fed, dressed, and entertained, and you’ll play with your body….”
Many more of these marvelous ceramic items after the jump…....