Neighborhood Travels

Six Reasons to See the Tattoo Exhibit in Los Angeles

The special exhibit, Tattoo, has been open for a couple of months, but I was busy during the holidays and didn’t get a chance to visit.  I made up for lost time a few days ago.  At first glance, you may not think the Tattoo exhibit is your kind of fare.  Perhaps you don’t have or want a tattoo.  Here are six reasons why this exhibition is important.

1. Beauty

This presentation is beautiful and thought-provoking.

Tattooed silicone torso by artist, Leo Zulueta
Tattooed silicone torso by artist, Leo Zulueta

The red wall superbly offsets the strong graphic quality of the design.  The suggestion of wings is discussed in the adjacent text.   The Tattoo exhibit has many stunning examples like the one above.

I especially like the following image of a torso bursting with color.

Tattooed Silicone Torso by Guy Atchison
Tattooed Silicone Torso by Guy Aitchison

The detail and creativity are mesmerizing.   However, the Tattoo exhibit doesn’t simply emphasize beauty.  It also delves into some history.

2. Tattoos, worldwide cultural symbols

The Tattoo exhibit speaks to the ubiquitous usage of tattooing.  As I wandered from room to room I discovered that this is a worldwide practice.  There are examples everywhere from the peoples of Polynesia to the Native Americans throughout the United States and Canada.

Iron theatre mask of the monkey god Hanuman
Iron theatre mask of the monkey god Hanuman

In Thai culture, the god Hanuman represents loyalty, bravery, and purity, attributes that make for a good tattoo image.  Cultures in Southeast Asia believe that the qualities of Hanuman are transferred via the tattoos.  The inked symbols, therefore, serve a religious or spiritual need.

3. Interesting History

I also learned that women were primarily the skilled inkers in a community.  It took centuries for tools to improve from simple pointed sticks.  As they did, American inventor Thomas Edison participated in the innovation.

Edison's Electric Pen
Edison’s Electric Pen, dated 1876

The pen was probably created as a tool for manuscript stencils but it inspired some of the first electric tattooist’s needles.

4. Tattoos reflect identity

The Tattoo exhibit doesn’t skip the tough questions.  Not all tattooing was noble and spiritual but all too often marked one’s place in society as a criminal.  Caste or social position was also identified by tattoo markings.  Lest you think this was just in some far away country remember the Holocost of World War II and the tattooed identity numbers of Jewish prisoners.

5. California culture

Black-and-gray tattoos became prominent in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s. This was primarily found in prisons but was soon adapted as Classic Chicano.  I like the work of Teen Angel.

La Charra by Teen Angel
La Charra by Teen Angel

The above is a pen and ink on paper drawing featuring the deep blacks and soft whispy grays central to this style.  Teen Angel created the Teen Angels magazine which dealt with lowriders and Chicano tattoo flash.

6.  Get a tattoo!

If you’re still on the fence or think you may want to consider getting a tattoo, this exhibit is for you because the museum has its own tattoo parlor!

Get a tattoo at the Natural History Museum
Come on in, we’re open for business.

The above image is indeed a working tattoo parlor where local tattoo artists are available by appointment.

Hope you have a chance to see the Tattoo exhibit.  It will be on display at the Natural History Museum through April 15, 2018.

To see more images from my visit, please click here.





Elizabeth Boatman

Traveler, explorer, memory maker and someone who's just downright curious about stuff. It's all about finding joy.

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