Resisting the palimpsest: reclamation of the female cultural body

Jasmine Hazel Shadrack

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticle


The implicit politics of female body performativity are played out constantly within the liminality of socio-cultural space. Women need to be able to renegotiate the complexity of constructed and encoded gender expectations and representation in order to expand the contemporary narrow vision of femininity that interpellates all of us in an advertorial way. The most visceral component of corporeal semiotics is the skin which can, certainly in Post-modern and Post-colonial terms be seen as a liminal space, which according to Homi Bhabha, is a space for cultural hybridity, performativity and minority diatribes to exist. In order to negotiate prescribed notions of physical aesthetics and ideas of femininity and beauty, the skin can be used to perform the renegotiation of this encoded, fixed tablet of gender traditions. How that skin exists culturally requires inspection. Space unfolds to interaction (Massey, D) and if, as McLuhan stated, the medium is the message, then the skin and the body are the medium. People, more predominantly women, who use their skins as semiotic canvasses by being tattooed, actively choose to perform subverted notions of beauty and performativity and challenge the dominant culture through the ritual of tattooing. The female body is perennially rewritten by the hegemony of each historical period. By using tattooing as a process of reclamation, one can refuse to let one’s body be inscribed by cultural hegemonic texts and practices. Through tattooing, bodily reclamation can resist the palimpsest by marking one’s journey, ideologies and artistic tastes on one’s skin. According to William Blake and Edward Said, ‘the foundation of empire is art and science; remove them or degrade them, and the empire is no more’ (4; 87). By tattooing the body, this process resists engendered codes of behaviour, constructed aesthetics of beauty and of the imposition of cultural imperialism because there is already a fixed, irremovable narrative in place that is autonomous and not state sanctioned. This paper will examine notions of female cultural space, encoded gender expectations, performativity and aesthetic constructs to demonstrate that through the process of tattooing, alternative ideological positions that are not represented by the hegemony exist in a liminal space and occupy a vital but subordinated (and therefore categorised female) position. As a result, revolution becomes embodied and performed on the skin.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArt and Design Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2013


  • Feminism
  • cultural theory
  • liminal space
  • tattooing
  • performativity


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