Torbay Tattoo Tales

Tattoo Exhibition - A response

  • volunteer
  • volunteers
  • tattoos

In response to working at the Tattoo Exhibition there are a number of ways the opportunity of volunteering and contributing to the Torbay Tattoo Tales archive has impacted my research and practice. I will briefly outline these below: 

The historical information collated and exhibited alone has taught me more about the industry I entered into at the beginning of last year than I had expected it to. It is rare to find such an informative, visual and historically accurate history on a sub-culture such as tattooing all in one place. One thing that has struck me is how there has been a near non-existent negative reaction for a culture that is often bypassed. Visitors may dislike the idea of getting tattooed, or dislike others having tattoos, however none of the many visitors to the Abbey can deny they didn't learn something or their preconceptions and stereotyping hadn't been altered on leaving. I have researched into the history of tattooing, and have heard many stories from tattoo artists that helped to build a picture of this rapidly growing art form, however having had time to emerse myself in the exhibition and then invite conversation and feedback from visitors has been key in believing that education into cultures such as tattooing, with exhibitions in locations such as Torre Abbey can aid in breaking down barriers within our society. Perhaps knowledge taken away from the exhibition could help people feel less intimidated by each other and more able to discuss what is a rich art form.

This particular exhibition, in this location invited conversation around what should be archived, recorded and shared with the general public in order to inform on areas of art history that can be mis-understood, avoided and laden with preconceptions and negative opinion. I have found all visitors to be positive, approachable and willing to speak openly on their tattoos and the stories that come with them. Visitors without tattoos who came with a slightly negative opinion have taken away information of the flapper girls and their tattoos and the skill and mastery that is being achieved in modern tattooing.

Stories of conquering illness, whether that be physical or mental through the form of obtaining control over their minds and bodies will remain with me. I know what it feels like to inflict pain on yourself as a form of control where you may be feeling the slip of control from your hand in other areas of your life. That moment you had the tattoo will stay with you forever, the person you were and what you were dealing with at the time. This is actually quite a powerful action for a person to take, it is a form of harnessing a memory, and I would guess that 80% of the time, the act of harnessing a memory may be subconscious.

Within my own practice an artist I have changed the way in which I document times and places, in a similar way to documenting a time in our lives where we enter a tattoo parlour and get a tattoo, I have found a way in documenting personal information that reflects on circumstances that I feel the need to express in some way. I have found being in Torre Abbey an inspiring and empowering space and have created drawings that reflect simply on this.

I have indeed obtained a love and respect for traditional tattoo design, it is a rite of passage (amongst all others!) for an apprentice to be able to design and tattoo in the traditional way, in a similar way to being taught about Monet 's Waterlilies and Van Gough's Sunflowers in school. Designing in this way brings back to life past times and distancing eras. Areas of research that have actually always interested me. Being a tattoo apprentice, volunteering to collect and add to this archive of tattoo tales, and working on my own professional practice in my MA in Drawing (with themes around memory, archiving, preservation, story telling and history) has helped to tie up the ends up in what can only be described as a spaghetti junction of issues needing to be researched and understood within my active mind.

I now am painting tattoo designs with oils (something I have never entered into before) onto wooden surfaces which are then finished in resin. There has been an interest for buying these and I have been asked to run a stall at various school fetes this summer. Along with tattooing them on clients of course!

Photo of Emily Hakin

Written by Emily Hakin

Exhibition volunteer