Review: ‘Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.’ At the Royal Ontario Museum (April 2 to September 5, 2016)

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) opens its new exhibition, Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art., on Saturday, April 2, 2016. On display in the Museum’s Roloff Beny Gallery, the show explores the multifaceted world of tattooing and the complex relationship between tattoo artists and tattooed. Coming from the musée du quai Branly in Paris, Tattoos showcases a visual history of body art and markings along with prints, posters, ancient tools, and commissioned tattooed silicone body reproductions inked by some of the most respected tattooists in the world.

The ROM’s exhibition is curated by Chris Darling, Senior Curator of Entomology, and Kenneth Lister, Assistant Curator of Anthropology. Featured are over 200 objects including many loaned from the quai Branly, and private lenders across Europe, along with nearly two dozen objects from the ROM’s Arctic, Egyptian, Pacific, East Asian and Natural History collections. Tracing tattoos across continents and over time, the exhibition examines tattoo artists and the tattooed, exploring the factors that have made tattooing an important cultural practice, an art form, and a worldwide modern phenomenon. Highlights include nine documentary videos showing various aspects of tattooing in different cultures and 13 silicone body parts inked by leading tattoo artists including Tin-Tin (France), Horiyoshi III (Japan), Filip Leu (Switzerland), Paul Booth (USA), Chimé (Polynesia), and Yann Black (Montreal).

“The exhibition brings to life the more than 5,000 year-old history of tattoos, exploring these ancient practices and their cultural significance. It will inspire ROM visitors to consider how the complex traditions of ink under the skin are constantly changing and have led to the global phenomenon of body art,” said Chris Darling, Senior Curator of Entomology, Royal Ontario Museum.

The original exhibition, Tattooists, Tattooed, curated by Anne & Julien, founders of the magazine HEY! Modern Art & Pop Culture, was on display in Paris from 2014 – 2015 and drew record crowds to the musée du quai Branly.

Tattoos is a separately ticketed exhibition. Tickets are available for: $8.00 (Adults), $6.00 (Seniors and Students), and $4.00 (Children). ROM Members enjoy the exhibition at no cost.

The exhibition is complemented by a series of ROM events. Highlights include:

Borneo: Explorations of Nature and Culture

Thursday, May 26 | 11:00 am | Free with General Admission

ROM Curator Chris Darling discusses the exploration of the biological and cultural diversity of the world’s third largest island with reference to historical and modern tattooing traditions.

The Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Tattooing: Medicine, Myth, Magic, and Meaning

Tuesday, June 14 | 7:00 pm | Ticketed Event

Leading anthropologist Lars Krutak shares his journey to understand the impact of tattoos and other forms of body modification.

Art Fusion, Presented in Partnership with Northern Ink Xposure

Thursday, June 16 | 7:00 pm | Ticketed Event

International tattoo artists bring their talents to the ROM, creating collaborative art in the Museum’s galleries along with live music, and entertainment. Access to the exhibition is included.

Visit for tickets and exhibition details.


Forget Kat Von D and LA Ink, The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)’s, ‘Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.’ will shine a light into tattoo art history that you will never see on TLC. ‘Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.’ is beautifully curated while also providing an honest portrayal of the creation of tattoo art and the people who wear them.

Even if you don’t have a tattoo there is no need to be shy – the ‘Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.’ will demystify the art form for you, show you why people gravitate toward it, why it makes it so personal based on the art that is chosen and where on the body it is placed.

The cultural inclusivity of the exhibit was authentic, respectful and brimming with stories that you would be hard-pressed to find online or in a documentary. The photographs, images and silicone body pieces are intimate, simple but also so rich in storytelling that it leaps off the skin in singing unison.

The ‘Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.’ is an important exhibit to get truly lost in over the summer break with friends, family and out of towners. For those of us who are keen tattoo enthusiasts the Sailor Jerry vintage work will surely make them swoon.  For those of us new to the art form and need a shot of tattoo education at its best – the videos, sideshow tattoo art and gorgeously maintained tattoo art tools and artifacts will scrape the surface into a journey that will be far from over once you leave the ROM’s premises.

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