Exhibitions Museums France

Permanent ink

Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly looks at the history of tattoo art

Navy-men on a fleet visit in Hamburg, 1966. Photo: © Courtesy Herbert Hoffmann and Galerie Gebr. Lehmann Dresden/Berlin

While the term “tattoo artist” dates to the late 19th century, the artistic merit of such body modification been little studied. “Tattooists, Tattooed”, an exhibition opening on 6 May at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, offers an unprecedented view of an ancient practice.

The 300 works on show include stamps, prints, photographs, masks and ink drawings on silk and canvas. There will also be some “fleshy” examples, with 13 synthetic body parts made of an experimental material and tattooed for the occasion by some of today’s most famous international tattoo artists. Among them are Horiyoshi III (Japan), Jack Rudy (US), Chimé (Polynesia) and Tin-Tin (France), who also served as the artistic consultant for the show. The show is curated by the founders of the pop culture and art magazine Hey!, Anne & Julien, with the scientific advisors Sébastien Galliot, an anthropologist specialising in tattoos, Pascal Bagot, a journalist and the director of a documentary on Japanese tattoo culture.

The show opens with a historic look at the many forms and meanings of tattoos across social groups, such as the “secret language” of body markings that developed among soldiers and prisoners. This introduction includes a chronological “Wall of Fame” highlighting some of the best-known “tattooists” and their “tattooed” subject from the end of the 18th century to the 1980s. The thematic sections that follow cover different regions and cultures, from the earliest known evidence of tattooing on a 4,500-year-old mummy from Western Europe, to artists in Edo-period Japan, to the resurgence of traditional tattoos in Oceana and South East Asia starting in the late 1970s.

The exhibition runs through 18 October 2015, giving ink enthusiasts ample time to pay homage to the past and present masters of this living art.

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