For Fans of Ink on Skin: An Exhibition that Traces 5,000 Years of Tattoos


‘Tatoueurs, Tatoués’, an exhibition that traces the 5,000-year history of tattoos, opened Tuesday at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Translated as ‘Tattoo, Tattooed’, ‘Tatoueurs, Tatoués’ explores how tattoos have evolved from being a symbol of traditional societies to a mainstream artistic movement.

According to researchers, the practice of applying ink to skin dates back over 5,000 years to the Neolithic age. It later spread to Tahiti, the Maoris of New Zealand, Japan, China, the Americas and Europe.

In Oriental, African and Pacific cultures, tattoos have a social, religious and mystical role in their communities, while they are often viewed as a mark of criminals, prostitutes and individuals who exist on the margins of society in the West.

In Borneo, for example, tattoos were a sign of a woman’s skill; if her mark was that of a weaver, she enjoyed a high status. European sailors in the 1700s also got tattoos to mark the lands they had voyaged to: a turtle meant a sailor had crossed the Equator, an anchor signified he had traversed the Atlantic, while a dragon symbolized he had traveled east.

Curated by journalists Anne & Julien of the quarterly French contemporary art magazine Hey!, the exhibition was 18 months in the making and brings together over 300 photographs, tools, statues, skulls and pieces of human skin covered in tattoos.

“Tattooing is part of the common heritage of most of humanity. We wanted to do this exhibition for a long time because we feel it’s important to show that tattooing has a real history and is a pure product of humanity. There’s not a place in the world where mankind has been that has not used tattooing... it’s both artisan and artistic,” said Julien.

‘Tatoueurs, Tatoués’ runs til 18 October 2014, and you can find out more about the exhibition here

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