On October 21, 2016, The Field Museum will unveil its newest special exhibition, Tattoo. The exhibition explores the global phenomenon of tattooing around the world over time, shedding light on this often-misunderstood art form.
This will be the first time that the exhibition, which was initially developed by Paris’s musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, will be on display in the United States. The exhibition, which will run until April 30, 2017, features 170 objects telling the story of tattooing, including historical artifacts and intricate contemporary designs tattooed onto silicone models of the human body.
The Field will be supplementing the exhibition with objects from its own collections. “We have some incredible artifacts related to tattooing in different cultures, and we’ll be including some in the exhibition,” explained exhibition project manager Janet Hong. “We’re also working on some elements of the exhibition that will be specific to tattooing in Chicago.”
Visitors to the exhibition will learn that people have been marking their skin as a means of expression for more than five thousand years—there’s evidence that the ancient Egyptians practiced tattooing, and the body of a naturally mummified man found in the Italian Alps (“Ötzi”) from 3330 BC is covered in 61 tattoos. The methods of tattooing vary widely across time and place—for instance, Thomas Edison held the first patent on a nineteenth-century “puncturing pen” that served as inspiration for the first electric tattooing machines—and the stories behind the tattoos vary even more. The exhibition features a seventeenth-century tattoo stamp for Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem to commemorate their journey; meanwhile, it tells the stories of contemporary tattooists like Whang-od Oggay, a 98-year-old Filipina artist who carries on traditional methods that are thousands of years old.
But while there are many narrative threads within the exhibition, Alaka Wali, Curator of North American Anthropology, explains, “The central message of the exhibition is about human creativity. It’s important to understand creativity’s different manifestations and not dismiss cultural practices and art forms because they were somehow stigmatized. The exhibition is going beyond the stereotype of tattoos to explore their aesthetics and artistry across cultures."
“Whether you’re someone with tattoos yourself or someone who’s interested in contemporary art practices and cultures around the world, this exhibition has something fascinating in store,” says Hong. “Tattoos are a way to make what’s inside of you, your experience and your beliefs, manifest on your skin. It’s powerful to encounter that.”
This exhibition was developed and produced by the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac. This exhibition and related programs are supported by a generous gift from an anonymous donor.