Everyone has their judgments when they see a tattoo no matter the background, but The Field Museum delves deep into the practice showing that it’s far from a fad and deeply ingrained in society.
Initially developed by the musée du quai Branly—Jacques Chirac in Paris, “Tattoo” makes its U.S. debut at The Field Museum. The exhibit has over 170 objects providing an all-encompassing history of the practice with The Field Museum adding 14 extra objects to the exhibit. Visitors enter learning about ancient Egyptians practice of tattooing centuries ago and end in an actual working tattoo shop.
While seen as rebellious in American culture, one of the most interesting things guests learn from the exhibit is that Christian pilgrims took part in tattoo culture at one time. The exhibit has a 17th-century stamp that was used on pilgrims to commemorate their journey to Jerusalem. The pilgrims would then tattoo the image using a needle. The exhibit also explores how tattoos are prevalent in the women of the Derung in China and Ainu in Japan and used as a right of passage for Māori people in New Zealand along with other cultures.
To show the beginning of the increasing use of tattoos in America one of Thomas Edison’s little-known inventions is also on display. The electric pen served to make multiple copies by creating a stencil when the electric needle would perforate the paper. Later Samuel O’Reilly took Edison’s invention and adapted it so it can be used to puncture a person’s skin and tattoo them.
While covered with impressive photographs and artifacts, the eye-catching part of this exhibit are the silicone bodies scattered throughout the exhibit that are covered in impeccable art. Don’t miss the small video showing Illinois’ own Guy Aitchison work out a design on a silicon form and then see the finished product right next to the screen.
Those modern methods are interesting to see juxtaposed to those of 98-year-old Filipina artist Whang-od Oggay, who has people travel the globe to have her tattoo them using her traditional methods.
Filmed and edited by @JoanPlanas.
If you’re visiting during a weekend you might be lucky enough to catch master tattoo artists working in the exhibit’s tattoo shop. While appointments to get tattooed are already booked, guests might want to take the opportunity to still see the process and get their own ink later as all the artists doing live demos work in Chicago.
Live Tattoo Demo Dates
Joel Molina, The Chicago Tattooing Company: Feb. 11–12 and April 29–30
Jennifer Trok, Speakeasy Custom Tattoo: Feb. 18–19
Tine DeFiore, Black Oak Tattoo: March 25–26
Stephanie Brown, Butterfat Studios: April 8–9
“Tattoo” will be on view until April 30 at The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. The exhibit is a premium exhibit that requires an extra ticket besides basic admission or guests can get access by purchasing a Discovery Pass or All-Access Pass. For tickets and more information visit fieldmuseum.org/discover/on-exhibit/tattoo.