Last night I went along to the postponed Preview of the Tattoo Exhibition at Torre Abbey which opened on 3rd March and will run until 3rd June.
I would like to say that I have always been ambivalent to the concept of tattooing but in truth, I have just never got it. I can appreciate it as an art form and maybe a small and discreet image, in a usually hidden place would be as far as I might ever go but to cover large expanses on one’s body permanently has never had any appeal.
Tihoti Faara Barff (Tahitian Tattoo artists featured in the exhibition) ‘It is not about fashion. Fashion changes. A tattoo is on your skin for life. You must be proud of it for life.’
So why, you are probably wondering, did I go along. Ostensibly, I went to view simply the art, with the images that I had seen in print of the ‘100 Hands’ exhibit curated by Alice Snape, firmly in mind, but an hour and a half or so later, I came away with so much more and perceptions changed. That’s not to say that I will be rushing out to my nearest tattoo artist for some large statement tattoo, but it is surely testament to a truly great exhibition that you leave it feeling informed, engaged and permanently affected by it.
The Exhibition runs throughout the house, with mock up tattoo parlours, video, and an historical exploration of this truly unique art form, showcasing the rich maritime heritage of tattoos but also showing how people from all areas of society have always been tattooed, even royalty. On the night we also had live tattooing with the chance to win a tattoo, I wasn’t quite ready to throw my name into the hat for that one but there were plenty of people there who were!
One aspect of the exhibition that particularly resonated and significantly changed my perception was the ‘Torbay Tattoo Tales’, a collection of photographs of tattoos with the stories behind them, from the simple ‘missed heartbeat’ representing a near death, images that challenge inner demons or significant illnesses, to those that celebrate life and pay homage to lost loved ones.
I missed the opening speech from guest curator Dr Matt Lodder (lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Director of American Studies at the University of Essex) who says, ‘Tattooing is a magical, romantic, exciting and often misunderstood art-form’. With one in three young adults now having a tattoo, wider acceptance and understanding of this art form may not be so many years away.
Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed is curated by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, an independent Museum based in Falmouth and the exhibition at Torre Abbey is the first stop on its nationwide tour.
‘My inspiration for this piece is the nature in my home islands of Tahiti.’