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From ruffians to royalty; from sailors to socialites; from pilgrims to punks: tattoos have been etched into bodies throughout British history. Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, curated by National Maritime Museum Cornwall offers a genuinely ground-breaking and comprehensive history of British tattooing.
It is estimated that about one in five of the UK population is tattooed and this figure rises to one in three for young adults. And yet, whilst the visibility of tattooing in contemporary culture may feel like something new, tattoos and tattoo art have always held a significant place in Britain’s history and historical imagination.
The exhibition, which comes to Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, features cutting edge designers, leading academics and major private collectors to tell a story that challenges long-standing myths and pre-conceptions about tattooing when it comes to class, gender and age. At the same time it gives a voice to and celebrates the astonishingly rich artistic heritage of tattooing as an art form in the UK.
Showcasing the work of major tattoo artists from George Burchett, via the Bristol Tattoo Club, Alex Binnie and Lal Hardy to contemporary artists working in Britain today, this is the largest gathering of real objects and original tattoo artwork ever assembled in the United Kingdom. The exhibition features items from three of the most important private collections of tattoo material in Britain, belonging to Willy Robinson, Jimmie Skuse, and Paul ‘Rambo’ Ramsbottom, providing a rare opportunity to display original artwork and artefacts not otherwise on public display. The exhibition also delves into previously unseen private archives that reveal hidden histories, including the incredible real story of Britain’s pioneering female tattoo artist, Jessie Knight.
Tattoos are a living and uniquely three-dimensional form of art. Inspired by this, the exhibition includes an innovative installation that creates a ‘sculptural map’ of British tattoo art today. The ‘100 Hands Project’, curated by Alice Snape of ‘Things and Ink’ magazine, features 100 silicone arms, each tattooed with an original design by one of the 100 leading tattoo artists in the UK. This exhibit creates an important artistic legacy for future generations — an archival ‘snapshot’ of a form of art all too often lost to the ravages of time.
Alongside the ‘100 Hands’ piece, a new documentary entitled Talking Tattoos has been created especially for the exhibition at Tullie House. Members of the public were invited to contribute images of their body art and a short video telling the tale behind their tats, helping to showcase the artwork, celebrate the diversity, and share the stories behind Cumbria’s tattoos.
For further information visit www.tulliehouse.co.uk
Photo of ‘100 Hands’ by Luke Hayes, courtesy of National Maritime Museum Cornwall.
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