Laurence Sessou's tattoos and scarification are part of her spiritual journey and rich ancestry...
The scarification was like a marriage between my spirituality and my ancestry. It was about unifying both.
When did you start thinking about expressing your difference through your body?
I’ve always been a dreamer. I’ve always been dreaming about doing something different. I didn’t know it was going to be through my body, although my childhood friend was telling me that when I was younger, I had tiny wrists so I said tattoos would make them look more beautiful. I can’t remember saying that, but she reminded me last time I went to France. I think what inspired me the most was travelling and really noticing and observing how people were embracing their culture. You go to Thailand, you have the hill tribes people; the adornment and the way people use their body to express themselves is incredible.
Did the cultures you encountered have a different attitude towards tattooing compared to the west?
Yeah. When you think of marking in general, especially when you are looking on a tribal level, your tribe is where you are coming from, it’s what you have achieved in your life, it’s a rites of passage. There are so many different reasons and motivations for being marked, but I think it always stems from a very positive thing. In the western world, I guess what’s happened is that with gun culture, jail and also with slavery and branding, tattoos are seen as a bad thing. But the origin of tattoos is absolutely stunning. I wouldn’t call it anti-establishment - it is more pro-identity, pro-celebration; celebrating who you are rather than going against something. I don’t want to go against anything, I want to embrace and celebrate my life.
Tattoos for me didn’t stem from a place of insecurity. It was always a celebration. All the symbols that I’ve got, they mean something to me. They are symbols that I asked myself if I was willing to die with and the answer was ‘yes’.
When people are conversing about my scars and tattoos they want to jump and tell me why they wouldn’t do it, but I didn’t ask for their opinion.
Can you share the meaning behind your tattoos and scarification?
The scarification was like a marriage between my spirituality and my ancestry. It was about unifying both. The deeper I was exploring my being, the more I felt inspired to decorate my temple. I see it as a celebration of life, body and spirit.
The symbol on my chest has been inspired by the female reproductive system, the middle represents our beautiful clitoris. The scar on my back is a map of my spiritual journey. The sacred cross in the middle is the ‘Chakana’. This is the place where we keep the fire of life. The four harrows represent the four nations and corners of the Earth. The flowers represent the medicine plant teachers. The spirals represent the infinity of possibilities. So I feel like I am carrying a dream in my back: seeing the four nations of this world enjoying the fire of life in harmony with nature under the care of Mother Earth.
Traditions and rituals of ancient people and tribes are the source of my inspiration. I love the mystical and the magic. My grandfather was a Chief and healer. My grandmothers were shamanic dancers. Animism is the path my ancestors followed; they believed in life and energy in everything. They have a great respect for the Earth. I grew up seeing my mum and dad kneeling on the floor and praying to their altar. I wouldn't be the person I am today without my ancestry. One of my purposes is to make sure their memory is never forgotten.
Why do you think that people who don’t like or understand tattoos feel so strongly about them?
I think that there is a bit of fear of the unknown; fear of what you don’t understand. Maybe a bit of ignorance, because tattooing has been here forever, it’s not a new thing. People keep talking about this ‘new wave’. It’s always been there, it’s not new. Why are you so bugged about something that is not even done on you? I think there is a lot of arrogance as well. You don’t even understand, you’re not connected to any of it, but you feel you have the right to give your opinion. When people are conversing about my scars and tattoos they want to jump and tell me why they wouldn’t do it, but I didn’t ask for their opinion.
Do you think that women receive more judgement or are treated differently when it comes to this?
I’d say yes. I also see it in the tattooing community and industry - the way women are portrayed in the magazines. I think one of the reasons why people outside of the community are quite prejudiced is because of the way we are portrayed within the community.
Do you think this is part of the wider way in which women are perceived and treated?
Regardless of whether women have tattoos or not, it's everywhere. This thing about us not being human and being objects. It’s like marriage. ‘Oh, you don't have a boyfriend? Don't worry, you will find one’. Who tells you that my life will become more meaningful if I am married? Where is that coming from? I think that's where so many insecurities are coming from with women. Since we are little we are told that once you have a husband and children your life will have meaning.
In my experience, the process of working with a tattoo artist is a very creative one. What does it mean to you?
Everything I have on my body comes from having conversations with my artists and telling them what I like, where I’m at in my life, and we take it from there. They start drawing and they come up with something and then it's excitement because there is a new addition. It's like having a different layer of yourself that is visible not just to you, but to others as well.
How would you define the body?
The body for me is the temple where the spirit is living in. It's an amazing engine that allows you to feel. It allows you to function and experience life. Temples are so beautifully decorated and looked after. That's how I see my body; that is my temple, that is where my spirit lives every day, that is my body living that experience and, yes, I chose to decorate it. Everything you see is an expression of what is happening inside.
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