The exhibit features more than 230 images and objects, ranging from historical artifacts to intricate contemporary designs tattooed onto silicone models of the human body. Each tells the story of this unique and diverse art. The Museum will enhance the West Coast incarnation of Tattoo with objects from the Museum’s expansive collection, as well as features specific to the rich tattoo cultures of Southern California, from Ventura to Los Angeles to Long Beach and Orange County.
What is a tattoo?
Maybe it’s a sign of identity, a rite of passage, a visible memory, or a piece of art to be collected and worn on the most intimate of canvases, the human skin. Tattooing is humanity’s shared legacy – spanning across the world and time.
Where Ink Meets Skin
Whether their needles are made of cactus spines, citrus thorns, or metal, tattooists across cultures and time have used a common method: puncture the skin and deposit pigment.
Why Do We Tattoo?
Tattoos can also be a sign of belonging to a community, a mark made without a person's consent, a spiritual practice, or an art form—and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
A World Heritage
Explore the omnipresent nature and diversity of tattoo across the world. Including works from Ainu in Japan, Māori tradition of tā moko in New Zealand, contemporary works from China, and so much more.
Art on the Move
Originally associated with sailors and sideshow performers, innovations in electric tattooing and transportation made tattooing accessible across Europe, Japan, and North America, sparking a renaissance in Western tattoo.
Los Angeles: Local Goes Global
L.A. is central to the story of contemporary tattoo. From the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet at the Long Beach Pike to the birth of black-and-grey realism, local styles soon reached tattoo shops all over the world and altered our expectations of tattoo.
If you look at all of the inked skin around you, the artistry is astonishing. After 5,000 years, tattoo flourishes in riotous variety, and has moved off the skin to influence other art forms, fashion, product design, and beyond.
An exciting addition to the exhibition is an on-site tattoo parlor. Tattoo artists from around L.A. created Museum-inspired flash, and you can watch them working in the exhibition on select days.
In order to show the full breadth of tattoos on the body, this exhibition contains some nudity.
Photos: *Artist: Guy Aitchison (b. 1968). From the collection of musée du quai Branly, photo John Weinstein. *Gift of Etienne de Ganay, Monique de Ganay, Régine de Ganay-Van den Broek d’Obrenan, Charles Van den Broek d’Obrenan from the collection of musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. *Photography by Cedric Arnoald (b. 1976). ©Cedric Arnold, courtesy of Galerie Olivier Waltman. *From the collection of musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. *Artist: Bob Shaw (1926-1993). ©Outer Limits Tattoo, photo Deniz Durmus. *Artist: David “Big Sleeps” Cavazos (b. 1973), assisted by: Jose “Prime” Reza (b. 1971). Photo Deniz Durmus. *Photo by Deniz Durmus
Become a Member
Members receive free ulimited tickets to Tattoo, and exclusive access to member-only events.
Enhance your exhibition experience with amazing events throughout its run.
Share Your Tattoo Story
Explore what body art means to our community. Tattoo isn't our story to tell, it's yours.
Share yours #tattooNHMLA
This exhibition was developed and produced by the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris.