2020 applicants
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Tattoo exhibition in locked-down gallery is recreated as a film

  • Date

    Wed 10 Jun 20

Colourful faces tattooed on forearms

The UK’s largest ever exhibition of original tattoo artwork, which was curated by Essex art historian Dr Matt Lodder and due to continue its national tour just days before the country went into lockdown, is now available to ‘visit’ online.

Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed features 400 artworks, photographs and historic artefacts spanning 400 years of history. Challenging deeply-held myths and misconceptions, it offers a ground-breaking insight into the history of British tattooing.

The exhibition, which first opened at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth in 2017 remains installed in a gallery at The Historic Dockyard Chatham, where it was due to open on 18 March. It has now been painstakingly recreated in video form with the help of Sparkly Light Productions.

  • Watch the exhibition film on iPlayer

Dr Lodder explained the monumental effort needed to create a film version of his exhibition in less than two weeks: “The idea was to give a ‘viewers' eye" of the exhibition. I, and the amazing teams at Sparkly Light and at Chatham had to contact all original lenders, and re-source the digital resources required to turn a three-dimensional exhibition into a film.

“Navigating the complexities of copyright permissions at fast pace and with basically no money has been a wild ride but it’s exciting that people will still be able to see the show. 

“We hope it will mean people who otherwise wouldn't have visited can see it and experience the amazing stories; and also whet the appetite of those who will see it when it re-opens.”

The exhibition shows how tattoo art has been embraced by all walks of society throughout British history.


Dr Matt Lodder, photographed in black and white wearing a white t-shirt, black-rimmed glasses and a trilby-style hat
"Navigating the complexities of copyright permissions at fast pace and with basically no money has been a wild ride but it's exciting that people will still be able to see the show."
Dr Matt Lodder school of philosophy and art history

“Tattooing has been essentially a constant presence in Western cultures since at least the early modern period. There is no clear period when tattooing was ‘confined to sailors’, and no clear period when it came to signify a particular commitment to fashion or trends,” said Dr Lodder.

The exhibition includes work by major artists including George Burchett, Alex Binnie and Lal Hardy, as well as pieces from three of the most important private collections of tattoo material in Britain belonging to Paul ‘Rambo’ Ramsbottom, Willie Robinson, and Jimmie Skuse.

Dr Lodder, whose research towards this exhibition dates back to his days as a PhD student, explained why tattoo art is so important: “We can learn much about a culture, and about individual makers and buyers of art, by examining the images they make and surround themselves with. This is particularly true about the images people choose to permanently inscribe on their bodies in the painful, intimate and often expensive process of tattooing.

“By telling the stories of this most intimate of art forms the exhibition becomes an overview of the hopes, fears and passions of people across a range of classes and social circumstance. It tells a popular art history which reveals much about our attitudes to faith, class, gender, nationality, conflict, anxiety, and love and thus presents a window into the inner lives of people so often missing from historical writing.”