A new exhibition at Paris' museum of indigenous arts explores the long history of tattooing and how it has grown from a subculture to a popular artistic movement.
The practice of marking human skin dates back well over 5,000 years according to researchers. Tattoos speak a universal language.
The exhibition highlights the diversity of tattooing traditions, their aesthetics and ritual dimension.
“Throughout history, tattoos have been performed for medicinal purposes or to prevent disease. There are tattoos that are supposed to have a magical function, to capture bad spirits,” says anthropologist Sébastien Galliot, scientific advisor to the exhibition.
“There are tattoos which we want to take with us in the afterlife. There are tattoos which are meant to celebrate an initiation, either as an individual or as part of a group, and there are also tattoos that are made for personal, aesthetic reasons.”
Over the past two decades, the so-called ‘tattoo phenomenon’ has gone mainstream – spanning the worlds of fashion, sport, design and advertising. Dozens of stars have had their bodies tattooed.
An estimated 20% of young people in France and nearly a quarter of American youths have tattoos.
“People want to reclaim their bodies. People want to stand out in a modern society, where machines control everything, where people all dress the same, and tattoos allow people to further express their individuality, to bring out what’s inside,” says French tattoo artist, Loic Abraxas.
French tattoo artist Tin-Tin says the tattoo industry shares common ground with other art forms: “It’s important for tattoo artists to be recognised as such. The only difference between our work and paintings, comics strips, illustrations or drawings is that we work on skin, on a living canvas,” he says.
‘Tattooists, Tattooed’ is on at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris until October 2015.