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The day the tattoo stopped being badass and entered the museum

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Spain is tattooed, the strange thing is the opposite. But, in 1996, there were barely a hundred studios to paint; for the current 2,000. There was the pioneer ‘Mao and Cathy‘, opened for the American military in Rota in 1982. Or the fundamental’Lucifer’s Hammer‘, in Malasaña, a motorcycle park conceived by Alberto Garcia-Alix in ’92. And from there to the Red players with more and more tribal or elven letters. OR Kaydy Cain, the singer of PXXR GVNG, who made his face in 2015 when it was still very rare: “Guys, I can no longer work in front of the public,” he told his bandmates. Normalizing milestones in the colored history of our country.

Will there be a King or Prime Minister with a ‘tatu’ one day? Cifuentes, Ayuso, Kichi, the minister Alberto Garzon O Elena Valenciano they have theirs. Because between 15 and 20% of our country carry them. A ‘boom’ at the European level, actually. If in 2002 only 5% had, now one in two millennials (and later generations) are already painted in the Old (but modern) Continent. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg in the history of a global ancestral practice, which began 5,000 years ago, and which we can now see in all its dimensions in a new exhibition, ‘Tattoo. Art under the skin‘, at CaixaForum from Madrid
from December 2 to April 17, 2022
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The tattoo, semantically, owes its name to the Polynesian ‘tatau’ that Captain Cook’s European crew discovered in the 18th century. The evolution of this practice has been the result of exchanges between countries, between marginal and dominant currents. And although now amplified by social networks and the new normality of its use, tattoos, above all, have written their history thanks to technological advances. For example, the key invention in 1891 of the electric tattoo machine by the American Samuel O’Reilly, which greatly increased the possibilities of this practice and favored its dissemination. The exhibition, originally conceived in the Quay Branly Museum – Jacques Chirac In 2014, it was the most viewed exhibition in the history of this French museum, and, since then, it has not stopped touring Chicago, Toronto … until its arrival now at CaixaForum, where it will be at the different venues for four years of the institution in our country.

Common heritage

One of the strong ideas of the expo is that the tattoo has gone from being a point of confluence of ‘outsiders’ and dangerous spirits to entering a museum. It has passed from the sacred, ritual and punitive character, or from being a codified language between criminals, to the recognition of the Academy. A practice that, we all know, was frowned upon, as he told us DJ Nano When he started getting tattooed decades ago in our country, he resisted its generalization. But not anymore, as explained by Elisa Durán, deputy general director of the ‘la Caixa’ Foundation, because all over the world there has been a shift “from marginality to glamor and modernity.” Although the exhibition goes beyond showing this “unexpected change”, as it explores, above all, the historical and anthropological roots of the tattoo, “a common heritage of much of humanity.”

In Europe, for example, it was repressed by Christianity and lasted until the 19th century as a form of mark offenders. However, from the 15th century, at the time of the great explorations, the tattoo was also discovered by the conquerors in Asia, in Oceania and in the Americas. When traveling in the skin of sailors and adventurers, the tattoo thus lost the function of assimilation that it fulfilled in non-European societies. In the West, it later settled on the fringes, while in the conquered territories the traditional tattoo for religious, magical and initiatory purposes was strongly repressed. Already at the beginning of the 19th century, in Europe the tattoo began to be a voluntary act, a clandestine language to enhance your identity, although still underground, until the current proliferation (or pandemic) promoted by the entertainment society and the networks.

Thus, this history of the ‘tatu’ over so many millennia shows the first individual to be exhibited painted in a circus in the United States, as the Japanese kabuki theater of the Edo period (1603-1868) tattooed the characters who made bandits and robbers or as in New Zealand (or Aotearoa, which is the Maori name of the country) the ‘moko’, that tattoo of curves and spirals inspired by the fern buds, was the specific adornment of the chiefs and warriors that they could afford the services of an expert tattoo artist (that is, a symbol of power). We even found silicone molds commissioned for the occasion to talk about the new generations of tattoo artists, such as Leo Zulueta, Alex Binnie, Xed LeHead y Yann Black that look to the third millennium reinterpreting the classics of the old American school but mixing them with the Japanese ‘irezumi’ or with the ‘wild streak of the Russian gulag tattoo’. And also, of course, the aesthetic possibilities of the pixels in our body are anticipated. In short, an expo, to get ideas for the new, even more tattooed world that is coming to us.

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