More on the tattoo exhibition at the National Maritime Museum

I was very surprised when I arrived at the Bristol Tattoo convention last month to see a stall dedicated to the British Tattoo Art Revealed exhibition at National Maritime Museum in Falmouth.

I visited there on my holiday in April and was delighted a couple of months later to have the chance to meet one of the tattoo exhibition's curators, Derryth Ridge.  She was one was one of those who set everything up and given that she has lots of tattoos it's not hard to see what motivated her.

Stuart Slade and Dr Matt Lodder (from Essex University) were the two principal people behind it all.  Stuart worked on the tattoo exhibition in Greenwich about fifteen years ago and felt there was more that could be done with it.  At the same time the museum in Falmouth was looking to expand its audience to the young, a wider audience and to some older people who are into tattoos.  Richard Doughty the director of the museum took the bold decision to hold this big tattoo exhibition.  There is such a strong link between tattoos and the maritime tradition.  Matt Lodder has done a lot of work researching tattoos and was behind the recent Radio 4 programme  "a mortal work of art".  And son it all came about.

They had to appeal to private collectors to build the exhibition because there is very little material in  museums.  The imperative was that if the items are not collected now in one public space we could lose a very important social story.

Derryth is Family Learning and Exhibitions Officer at the museum and tattoos are a passion of hers and it was a dream project for her.  It was important for private collectors to take them seriously and her tattoos helped!  They had be burned before by people with less serious intent and it took time to convince them that the Falmouth Museum was taking tattoos seriously.

A major feature of the exhibition is a collection of tattooed prosthetic arms created by 100 different tattooists.  In this they had the help if Alice Snape of the magazine "Things and Ink".

Alice performed the massive task in contacting all the artists and getting them to do it for free.  A not inconsiderable task given the number of hours each artist would have to commit to the project.  The organisers were all very nervous when with just a few months to go they were still many short.  They pleaded that tattoos on skin of a human die with them but these tattoos will last forever and will become a part of the permanent collection.  The way this particular exhibit is displayed makes the arms look like a big tapestry and further is a record of the state of tattoo art in 2017.  An insight into what is going on in the world at this moment.

So has there been a big advance in tattooing techniques?  Derryth believes some of the older flashes are very beautiful with sailors, anchors and sailors heads.  Some are more crude from the the 1930s - not as finely drawn.  Back in the 1940s they didn't have access to the same colour base as they do now. But now there has now been an explosion of new styles since the 1980s and 90s compared with the simpler designs of the 1970s and earlier.

Derryth has traditional work and her leg was done especially for the exhibition based on a photo of a lady in the famous Bristol Tattoo Club the 1960s who was quite heavily tattooed on her legs and arms.  This woman had a ship tattoo and Derryth decided to have a more modern version of it tattooed on her in the knowledge of just how difficult is was for women in those days to wear tattoos.  She found it an empowering image. Her tattoos are by Matthew Houston who also created the striking feature of the fully tattooed silicone human (The Great Omni) that you immediately see as you enter the exhibition.

Derryth plans to get plenty more tattoos and hope to slip away from her stand at the exhibition to get one.  I wonder if she did.


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