13 February until 6 September 2015

Hidden out of sight in winter, proudly displayed in summer: tattoos have become a ubiquitous trend, they can be seen everywhere today. But as a constant of cultural history they are far more than a mass phenomenon and a cult fashion accessory. Tattoos tell personal stories, create identity and a feeling of belonging, they are intended to decorate, heal and protect, they fascinate or repel, are mystified or part of a trend. The exhibition “Tattoo” examines in depth for the first time the broad spectrum of this ancient cultural technique – which is still very much alive – focusing on the aspect of art and design, showing international attitudes from various perspectives and picking up on the current debate. It throws light on the ambivalence of the tattoo between a mark of distinction, a sign allocating its bearer to a social class, a badge of identity and a stigma in various cultures, social classes and epochs. One aspect pursued here is therefore the mutual exchange of influence between art, traditional tattooing and visual design. Tattoo shows over 250 pieces of work, including photographs, coloured woodcuts, paintings and sculptures, as well as video clips and audio installations, stencils and historical specimens of tattooed skin. From tattooing instruments made of simple tools available in nature to intricate precision machines, colours and pigments convey an impression of the craft in practice. In this show the MKG also looks back on the long tradition of the Hamburg tattoo scene, which had its cradle in the port milieu of the late 19th century. Historical photos which have never before been on public show document the typical tattoos of the working class in Hamburg around 1890. Legendary tattooists such as Christian Warlich (“The Tattoo King”) and Herbert Hoffmann exemplify a many-facetted and highly expressive art form which generates ever new experimental designs. A glimpse into this is given by work from local tattoo artists who let themselves be inspired by the museum’s collection. A picture loop shows many pieces of work by celebrated tattooists, men and women, from the current international scene, which is marked by a huge diversity of stylistic approaches and new aesthetic movements.

Ill.: Jens Uwe Parkitny, Ma Hla Oo aus Laytu-Chin, Nördliches Rakhine, Burma, 2005, Papier auf Aluminum, Photo: Jens Uwe Parkitny