Mohammed’s tattoo studio is hidden in a back room behind a clothes shop in the poorer, southern part of Tehran. Photos of Al Pacino, Che Guevara and the Eiffel Tower adorn the walls. His customers often ask for classic tattoo motifs – a rose, for example, or a predatory animal – but Maori-style tribal patterns are also popular. “Tattooing is my passion,” he says. “I take the risk simply because it’s so beautiful.”
He certainly does take a risk. Tattoo artists are regularly arrested in Iran and sentenced to fines, lashes or even imprisonment. While there is no specific law against tattoos and they are not strictly forbidden in Shia Islam, the authorities strongly reject them as a western phenomenon harmful to Iranian values.