By Tags:

The goal – to get visitors to rethink ink.


It may not be the art museum, but as of late October, the Field Museum opened its newest special exhibition, Tattoo, which examines the history, evolution and popularity of body art.


The exhibit focuses on the world-wide phenomenon of tattoos and aims to shed a little light on the oft-misunderstood art.


Tattoo will run through April 30 next year and marks the American debut of the exhibit that was developed by Paris’s musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac.


It incorporates 170 objects telling the story of tattooing, including artifacts and contemporary designs tattooed onto silicone models of the body. The museum will add several items from its own collections into the exhibit, and some of what’s covered in the display will be specific to tattooing in Chicago.


What’s more, to accompany the exhibit, the museum also opened an on-site tattoo shop in the exhibition where visitors can leave with a natural-history themed tattoo.


Those interested in getting ink can pick from 42 pre-drawn designs that relate to natural history collections at the museum that were created by local artists. There are 36 tattooing time slots open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. (Those seeking a spot must call 312-778-5040.)

The artist doing the tattoos include Zach Stuka of Deluxe Tattoo and Stephanie Brown of Butterfat Studios, and many have long wait-lists at their respective studios.

Those not getting a tattoo can artists work on certain weekends of the exhibition’s run. A list of tattooing dates is available here.


Meanwhile, the exhibition itself will explore how people have been marking their skin for artistic expression for over 5,000 years. According to the museum’s website, there’s evidence the ancient Egyptians practiced tattooing, as the body of a naturally mummified man discovered in the Italian Alps from 3330 BC is covered in over 60 tattoos.

The exhibit also explores the methods of tattooing around the world over time. For one, Thomas Edison had the first-ever patent on a “puncturing pen” that later inspired the first electric tattooing machine. The display also includes a seventeenth-century tattoo stamp for Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem to mark the journey. And it tells stories of some of today’s tattoo artists, some of whom still perform traditional tattoo methods that are centuries old.

Overall, the main message of the exhibition centers on creativity, its various manifestations and the reminder to not dismiss forms or art or culture because they may be stigmatized.

“Tattoos are a way to make what’s inside of you, your experience and your beliefs, manifest on your skin. It’s powerful to encounter that.”

“Tattoos are a way to make what’s inside of you, your experience and your beliefs, manifest on your skin,” Janet Hong, the museum’s exhibition project manager, explains on the museum’s website. “It’s powerful to encounter that.”