Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.
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Arriving in Toronto after spending a burgeoning two-year period in Paris’ musée du quai Branly, the exhibit Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art. is now featured at the Royal Ontario Museum. The exhibit brings together photos, artifacts, and tattooed reproductions of body parts in silicone commissioned by some of the world’s’ most renowned artists.

The exhibit aims to showcase the fascinating ancient history of tattoos and how it is ever evolving, as well as the relationship between tattoo artists, their clients and the cultures in which they live and move through. Moving away from the long-held stigma that the tattooed are criminals or other types of unsavoury folk, Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art. allows the lesser-known cultural aspects of tattoo culture to be on display; emotion evoking photos depicting tattooed faces of Asian women reveal a family identity tactic, whereas those of tattooed children in Nazi concentration camps display inmate status. In other areas some original tattoo machines crafted of bamboo enlight upon the primitive beginnings of the art, and video feeds of interviews and tattoo work being done offer a modern perspective.

The exhibit is revealing in such a way as to create a dialogue as one moves through it; the items and photos on display allow for a greater awareness and understanding of what it is to be a part of a tattoo community, whether you are a collector or an observer. Tattooed reproductions in silicone of different body parts are showcased throughout the exhibit in many different styles, demonstrating the diversity and variety that exists in this art form. Like painters, tattooists are first and foremost artists, with the silicone acting as the canvass and the tattoo machine akin to the paintbrush. This demonstration helps break down the imputative image of tattooists as not being true artists in a strong and interesting way. A particularly intriguing piece held in a glass case reveals a type of ink seen under UV light; just yet another way the artform has evolved.

Accompanying this exhibit is a series of four provocative lectures, the first of which featured artist and author Henk “Hanky Panky” Schiffmacher in a conversation with Anne and Julien, curators of the exhibit at the musée du quai Branly in Paris. Lively and engaging, the dialogue touched on the history of tattoos, from their ancient origins to how they have evolved and are received and interpreted in modern times. Moderated by Radio Canada’s Kevin Sweet, the humour was plentiful while the passion the speakers felt was never lost on the audience, with tales and facts regaled and fond memories shared with all present. Audience members couldn’t help but feel a new or renewed appreciation for this incredible and incredibly varying artform with the conversation eventually spilling over into a reception for everyone to meet and mingle. As the drinks flowed and the words were shared, passion was indeed the prominent emotion in the room – that and Henk’s robust laughter, proof that tattoo artists, nor artists in general, must not be starving for their true love – art.

For more information, visit the ROM’s exhibit page here:

and check out the lecture series here:

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