Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed

National Maritime Museum Cornwall

17 March 2017 – 7 January 2018

Free with National Art Pass (standard entry £12.95)

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Comprising contributions from designers, academics and private collectors, this exhibition provides a comprehensive history of tattoo art in Britain.

Delving into the rich and fascinating history of tattooing in Britain, this display – the largest of its kind to ever take place in the UK – aims to challenge preconceptions around the origins, extent and reception of the practice.

It includes designs, photography and other artefacts from three of the most important private collections of tattoo material in Britain, many of which have rarely been seen in public.

These items reveal that people from all areas of society have been tattooed – from ruffians to royalty, sailors to socialites, pilgrims to punks – dispelling the idea that tattoos are only favoured by people of a certain age, class or gender.

One of the most interesting stories highlighted is that of Britain's first female tattoo artist, Jessie Knight, whose pioneering career spanned the 1920-60s. Despite an initial struggle to be taken seriously. she went on to achieve incredible success, winning Champion Tattoo Artist of All England in 1955.

The museum has commissioned three stars of the tattoo world to create new designs inspired by the exhibition, which they have inked on to hyper-realistic body sculptures. Tihoti Faara Barff uses hers to celebrates the modern revival of Tahitian tattooing, Matt Houston pays tribute to the sailor tattoo and Aimée Cornwell presents a piece inspired by fantasia.

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The museum has created a new installation called The 100 Hands Project, curated by Alice Snape of Things and Ink magazine. Featuring 100 silicone arms each inked with an original design by a tattoo artist from the UK, it is hoped the piece will provide a visual record of current practice that can be enjoyed by future generations, unlike real tattoos which are lost when the bearer dies.

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