I’ve always loved visiting museums. Whenever I travel, I try to find a house of history to lose myself in for a few hours, picking up some strange and new tidbits of knowledge, marveling at objects from days past. That love of museums was born right here in Toronto at the Royal Ontario Museum, thanks to school trips in elementary school. I used to always get so excited for those trips. And this, spring that childlike excitement returned when I heard about the ROM’s latest exhibit Tattoos: Ritual. Tattoo. Obsession.
As a fairly tattooed person, I’ve run into a lot of criticism about my ever growing collection. From my parents and my employers, to friends and non-tattooed people in general, I’ve heard it all; “you’ll regret it someday,” “think about how that will look when you’re old,” and “you’ll never get a good job with those.” I’ve generally chalked up those unwelcome and unwanted opinions as ignorance about tattoos, something that I have in common with Anne and Julien, the curators of the Tattoo exhibition. A desire to cure that ignorance was part of the inspiration behind the Tattoo exhibit. Originally developed and produced by the musée du quai Branly in Paris, France, this exhibit was intended to bridge the gap between the academic world and the world of tattoos. And that’s exactly what it does.
Transcending time, culture, race, religion and geography, the Tattoo exhibition showcases the over 5,000 year-old ancient art of tattooing. Spread out over a series of rooms and hallways in the ROM’s upper level, the origins and meanings of tattoos unfolds in a series of artifacts and photographs contained within them. From Maori tribes to circus performers, the criminal element and the pious religious, all of those who wove tattoos into the fabric of their history found their stories told in this exhibition. The tools they used to create their pieces of art, photos spanning hundreds of years of the history of tattoos from across the globe, even human body and skin replicas tattooed by famed artists specifically for the exhibition; all these pieces of history, old and new came together in an astounding collection.
I had the chance to wander through the exhibition at its opening event earlier in the spring, and I found it to be beautifully curated, balancing art and education perfectly. Anyone who’s ever said a negative word about the tattooed, those who make them happen, and those who love them should see this exhibit, to gain a better understanding of the deep meaning and ancient origins of this practice. Tattoos aren’t about fads or bad ideas borne of worse decisions; they’re about art and meaning, personal to the owner and a tribute to the talent of the artist. Take a look below at some of the works on display at the ROM right now.
So whether you love or hate tattoos, have a ton or are contemplating your first, the Tattoo exhibition is for you. It runs until September 5th. Get your tickets now, and learn a little something about tattoo culture.