Skin deep

Tat­too: Bri­tish Tat­too Art Re­vealed

BBC History Magazine - - Out & About -

Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum Corn­wall, Fal­mouth 17 March–7 Jan­uary 2018

01326 313388

One in five of Bri­tain’s adult pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated to have a tat­too, a figure that rises to one in three among young adults. But tat­toos have not al­ways been as pop­u­lar nor as wide­spread as they are to­day. So where and why did myths and pre­con­cep­tions of tat­too­ing be­gin and how have meth­ods of tat­too­ing changed?

These ques­tions and more are ad­dressed in a new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum Corn­wall that looks at the fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory of Bri­tish tat­too­ing. Sir Joseph Banks, the nat­u­ral­ist on Cap­tain Cook’s first Pa­cific voyage in 1768, wrote the first Euro­pean ac­count of tat­too­ing, in which he de­scribes see­ing a young girl be­ing tat­tooed in Tahiti. The word ‘tat­taw’ it­self was first used in the 1769 pub­lished ac­count of Cook’s first voyage.

Four hun­dred orig­i­nal art­works, pho­tos and his­tor­i­cal arte­facts will be on show, in­clud­ing a brass in­stru­ment once used for ‘ brand­ing’ the let­ter ‘D’ on army de­sert­ers, as well as early tat­too­ing equip­ment. In­cluded is an orig­i­nal model of Edi­son’s patent elec­tric prepara­tory pen from around 1877, which pro­vided the ba­sic tech­nol­ogy for early tat­too ma­chines in the US and Bri­tain. More squea­mish vis­i­tors may wish to avert their gaze from one ex­hibit: two tat­tooed eyes on pre­served (hairy) hu­man skin (pic­tured above right).

ABOVE: A pair of tat­tooed eyes on pre­served hu­man skin from the 19th cen­tury BE­LOW: A trav­el­ling tat­too ban­ner from the c1920s

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