Tattoo exhibit at the Field Museum sheds new light on the ancient art

Tattoo exhibit at the Field Museum sheds new light on the ancient art
A woman screaming in pain as Jessie Knight gives her a tattoo. Photo: Haywood Magee/Getty

Besides walking by the many tattoo shops in our town or seeing the amazing variety of tattoos on people of all shapes, sizes and ages, I had never given much thought to tattoos.

That is until visiting the Field Museum’s new exhibition, TATTOO, opening today.

Upon visiting the exhibition at Tuesday’s media preview, I was treated to an immersion into the art and history of tattoos and gained a whole new appreciation and perspective on “getting inked.”silicone-male-back-with-tattoo-by-filip-leu-switzerland

The exhibit, initially developed by Paris’s musée du quai Branly, explores the phenomenon of tattooing around the world over time, shedding a whole new light on this often-misunderstood art form.

It seems, people have been inking their skin for over five thousand years–long before their was a Hamilton–or even an America.

But why? The reasons are many.

According to Alaka Wali, Curator of North American Anthropology at the Field Museum, “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 exhibit is about going beyond the stigma that was associated with tattoos and understanding them as a reflection of human creativity.”

The exhibit, which will runs through April 30, 2017, tells the story of tattooing through 125 objects including ancient historical artifacts and intricate contemporary designs tattooed onto silicone models of the human body.

 tattoo on silcone female torso by Tin-Tin, France

Tattoo on silcone female torso by Tin-Tin, France

Early evidence of tattooing by the ancient Egyptians were discovered on the body of a naturally mummified man found in the Italian Alps (“Ötzi”) from 3330 BC covered in 61 tattoos.

The exhibit explores tattoos throughout history from the marking of prisoners to the popularity of the art in the present day.


Whang-od Oggay.

Visitors will learn the stories of contemporary tattooists like Whang-od Oggay, a 98-year-old Fillipina artist who carries on traditional methods that are thousands of years old.

And see photos, including the businessman, (pictured below) sporting tattoos.

Portrait of Dion Hutana-Ngati-Kahungunu

Portrait of Dion Hutana-Ngati-Kahungunu

The exhibit explores the various methods of tattooing that vary widely across time and place.

For example, Thomas Edison held a patent on a nineteenth-century “puncturing pen” that served as inspiration for the first electric tattooing machines; or the seventeenth-century tattoo stamp that was used to commemorate the journey of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem.

Whether you are someone who has tattoos or someone who shuns tattoos you’ll come away with a whole new understanding of this ancient art that continues and may be even more popular in contemporary times.

The Field Museum will have a working Tattoo shop on various days and weekends during the exhibition.

The Field Museum will have a working Tattoo shop on various days and weekends during the exhibition.

You may even come away from the exhibition with a new tattoo–permanent, if you are lucky enough to get an appointment at the museum’s working Tattoo Shop–or temporary from the museum’s tattoo gift shop (at the end of the exhibition).

Visitors who are interested in getting a tattoo can choose from 42 different pieces of flash art created by some of Chicago’s top local artists including Zach Stuka of Lakeview’s Deluxe Tattoo or Stephanie Brown from Butterfat Studios.

There are 36 tattooing time slots available at the Field Tattoo shop–first-come, first served.

Those not wanting a tattoo or not able to get an appointment can still watch.

Click here for dates, times, information on when live tattooing will be taking place or call 312 778 5040.

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Filed under: Exhibitions, Field Museum.

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