For the most part, tattoos were once a sign of the underworld. They were encrypted messages that could only be translated by those in the know. From letters, symbols, to tattooed rings, these marks represented a former life that was representative of your assocation in organized crime, as well as your rank, prestige or notoriety.

From Japan to Russia, these marks could be found on older soldiers but now the times have changed. Tattoos are now a mark of self expression for the millennial generation. Many Russians celebrate tattoos as works of art for which they serve as canvas, and it’s become symbolic of their own life story and experiences. Take for example, Muscovite Valery, 25, she has four tattoos and plans on getting more. He said, “My tattoos are simply images on my body that I love, and it feels as if they have been a part of who I am forever. I think that Russian tattoos are at a crossroads right now, and talented Russian tattoo artists are writing a new history. The past is the past. This is a new era.”

The older generations find tattoos, especially on young women, horrid.

But some tattoo artists embrace the Soviet past. In an interview with The Moscow Times, Love Life Tattoo artist Andrei Kitchatov commented, “Prison tattoos have a vast range of themes — there is much to draw inspiration from. And I’m not the only one inspired — I see those themes in the works of tattoo masters not only in Russia, but also in Europe and the U.S. The main thing is not to forget the Soviet prison tattoo generation. It is a part of our history — the history of Russian tattoos. We must cherish it.”

Read the full story here.