The Tattoos exhibit, “Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.” is on at the Royal Ontario Museum. This is not something that would usually interest me, for when I think of tattoos I think of disfiguring the body, something vulgar or demeaning. But this show at the ROM is an exhibit exploring the history and evolution of tattooing and offers a fascinating insight into practices, histories, meanings and the revival of the global phenomenon of body art. Tattooing, after all, is one of the oldest art forms, turning the body into a canvas. This exhibit has come from the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. They had over 700,000 visitors and it was one of the most successful events in the Museum’s history. The ROM’s new CEO and director Josh Basseches says the exhibit, “looks at the question of the relationship between art and culture and really expanding the definition of what art is.”

The show explores the 5,000-year-old world of tattoos, inked by some of the most respected tattoo artists in the contemporary world. The show features photos, artifacts, documentary films, demonstrations and silicone reproductions of body parts that have been commissioned by some of the world’s most renowned artists. The exhibit also showcases the ancient history of tattoos and how they evolved. It gives us a better awareness of what it is to be part of the tattoo community whether you are a collector or an observer. This show is a bit of a departure for the ROM, but maybe not when you consider that studies say that 40% of people now between the ages of 25-29 have at least one tattoo.

As I mentioned, I have always found tattoos to be vulgar, but they have been used in history as cures, to knowledge honour, to marginalize, to control, to punish, to brand, to enhance or to demean. When you see this show you will see how technically great and creative these artists are. Getting a tattoo is to wear the signature of the artist, because our bodies become the canvas. Although I personally am not a fan it is interesting to see how the practice of tattooing has moved from the fringes to the mainstream. The show had an impressive collection of over 200 objects dedicated to this historical and cultural significance. Several tools are on display as well as a tattoo machine made by prison inmates in France. The exhibit is grouped into themes and looks into traditions from around the world. It runs from April 2- September 5.


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