Dozens of tattoo shops around the world gave away free swastika tattoos Wednesday as part of a campaign to reclaim the ancient Indian symbol from its recent Nazi associations.
Danish artist Peter Madsen said he had to stop taking customers after the 54th client at his Copenhagen shop, where he said the free tattoos were valued at about $180, as part of the “Learn To Love The Swastika” campaign.
Madsen said participants hopes to “reclaim this symbol, which the Nazis abused, and restore it to its original meaning in India, where is has served for thousands of years as a sign of peace and goodness.”
The campaign was held on the one-year anniversary of the death of Canadian poet ManWoman, who wrote the book “Gentle Swastika, Reclaiming the Innocence” and covered his own body with more than 200 swastika tattoos.
“I met ManWoman once, and he was covered in swastikas,” said Audrie Cabena, who works at Yankee Tattoo Parlour in Dundee, Scotland. “I think it is important to recover that symbol and educate people, really.”
Swastikas are commonly associated with white supremacists in Europe, Russia and the English-speaking world due to its association with Nazi Germany, and the symbol has been banned in several European countries.
“I believe that a symbol that was once something else, but which the Nazis took hostage, cannot just be washed clean,” said Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Congregation of Copenhagen.
Schwarz said the campaign was incredibly disappointing.
“Our country has one of the world’s highest levels of education, yet some think it could be cool to get a swastika,” Schwarz said. “It’s enough to make one worry about the future.”
Madsen said he accepted the Jewish community’s criticism as legitimate, but he said he refused “to let evil keep this symbol.”
Participating shops asked recipients to sign waivers stating that their free tattoo was not a Nazi symbol, although Madsen had no way of being certain this was true.
“Well, then they may think they are wearing a symbol of racism, but that doesn’t change the fact they are actually wearing on their bodies the symbol for a better world,” Madsen said.
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