Tattooed Refugees by Rossinante and Olivier Marescaux

Tattooed Refugees by Rossinante and Olivier Marescaux


December 19, 2019

Words by Rossinante, edited by Emma Clayton

Photography by Rossinante and Olivier Marescaux

Rossinante and Olivier Marescaux are two artists and founders of this photography project. With the aim to document those who are considered by society to be ‘outcasts’, the artists found themselves at a refugee camp and documented the stories and tattoos of the people living there. The pictures will be exhibited in 2020, with a publication to follow.

What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Rossinante and I was born at the end of the 1970’s in Northern France.

Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I’m working for the Mauvaise Réputation collective but my “real” job is as a sociologist.

Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I have not had an academic art education. I didn’t learn art in school, but took some drawing and painting classes when I was a teenager. As far as I can remember, I have always loved drawing because it allows me to escape. After I became interested in photography, I was inspired by the work of Doisneau, Capa, and Newton. Recently, I discovered the awesome work of Arlene Gottfried. But, I’m not strictly an artist or a photographer–I’m a curious person. I draw and I take some pictures for my pleasure.

How did this particular project start? What were your aims and how long has it been doing for? Is there an intended outcome?
From very young, I identified myself as what society calls, “outcasts”, “losers”, and “punks”.
Their desire for freedom, their revolt against authority, and their anti-conformism fascinated me and still fascinates me. It is through these people, who are often tattooed, that I discovered tattooing.

This photography project, which I work on with my pal Olivier Marescaux, aims to collect photographic documents, and oral or written testimonials, about tattooing in the underground world. It is inspired by both documentary and social photography. The book Les Tatouages Du Milieu by J. Delarue & R. Giraud, with pictures by R. Doisneau, is the reference point for us.

We seek to photograph people who were tattooed before or during the mass tattoo wave of the 2000s. It is a question of collecting photographic documents of people that society might describe as dubious; prisoners, underground musicians, junkies, refugees etc. Within these groups, tattooing is often not simply perceived as a simple ornament, but instead is a bearer of meanings or the symbol of belonging to a group or clan. We simply took our smartphones and cameras and went to meet people in the streets, at bars, at concerts etc.

The project doesn’t have a title yet but it will be called something like Outcast. Although it’s still in its infancy, we have proud of the interesting photos we have already collected.

Homemade Tattoos; done in streets or jail with needles and charcoal, burnt plastic, or ink.

These pictures were taken at a refugee camp. Why did you go there specifically?
At the beginning, we didn’t go to the refugee camp to take pictures, but to help them. The conditions which France welcomes refugees to are awful. It’s a shame!

As they saw our tattoos, they showed us theirs. Then we talked about tattooing, and we asked them permission to take pictures of their tattoos. They told us the stories of their tattoos, which are often dedicated to God, to their love stories, or related often some crimes.

Who was the most memorable person you met, or story you heard, from the camp?
All the people we met for this project had an interesting story to tell us, but it is true that we were impressed by the tattoo collection done in a jail. The refugees in these pictures are Roms. These populations are often persecuted in their countries and sent to prison for stealing food or fighting. In jail, they regularly tattoo themselves with needles and charcoal. On their bodies you can see the signs of strength and virility (lion, tiger, scorpion); lost loves (Nikela, Roza, Carolina), sexual fantasies (back piece), and their devotion to God.

How do you think this project is important in the contemporary wider socio-political sphere?
I don’t know if this project is important in the contemporary wider socio-political sphere, but it’s important for me because it allowed me to meet some very interesting people. I hope this more broadly helps to generate interest in people who are often rejected, and offers a different perspective on them.

Where else can we see the work?
The photographs taken as part of this project will be the subject of an exhibition or even several exhibitions in 2020/2021, first in Olivier’s studio in Reims and then other tattoo studios. An edition of serigraphs done by Olivier Marescaux and a book are also in the works.

You can find more of Rossinante’s work on Instagram (). You can find more of Olivier Marescaux’s work on Instagram ()

If you have been a “tattooed outcast” you can contact the collective by DM on Instagram.