Research Case Study

​​Getting under the skin of tattoo history

The misunderstood and underestimated art form is being reassessed thanks to the work of Dr Matt Lodder

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    Digital, creative and cultural
    Economy, business, politics and society

  • Lead Academic

    Dr Matt Lodder

Dr Matt Lodder is challenging myths about tattoos and celebrating an alternative cultural history of the UK inked onto the bodies of our ancestors.

And he is telling that story through landmark exhibitions.

In 2016 he helped create Tattoo London at the Museum of London – tracing the history of tattoos in the capital and celebrating some of its heroes.

In 2017 he curated Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, a groundbreaking exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall - you can catch the show in Falmouth until January 2018.

Dr Lodder, Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Director of American Studies, told The Times: “One of the aims of this show is to use the tools of art history to examine the tattoo, to consider who made them and how and for whom, and to discover how this can reflect our changing culture. These images tell an amazing story about British social history.”

“What emerges is no less than a mass, mobile art form through which the history of Britain’s larger cultural shifts can be observed,” described Hannah Betts, of The Telegraph.

Different view on the art form

Dr Lodder, who was supported by co-curators Stuart Slade and Derryth Ridge of National Maritime Museum Cornwall, wants to give people the chance to think about the art form in different ways.

“In this exhibition we can take images that are hidden normally beneath clothing or behind shop doors and show them to a wider public who may never have walked into a tattoo shop in their lives,” he said.

This exhibition is a comprehensive history of British tattooing, featuring cutting-edge designers and major private collectors. It tells a story that challenges long-standing myths and pre-conceptions about tattooing when it comes to class, gender and age, whilst at the same time giving a voice to and celebrating the astonishingly rich artistic heritage of tattooing as an art form in the UK.

Challenging misconceptions

“Tattooing is a magical, romantic, exciting and often-misunderstood art-form,” said Dr Lodder. “And this exhibition aims to communicate some of that magic to visitors.

"Whilst British and global museums have had a longstanding interest in Western tattooing, none have ever managed to fully combine serious academic research with access to the vast but hidden troves of tattoo ephemera kept closely guarded in private collections.

“In this exhibition, we have finally been able to match the most current and cutting-edge research on British tattoo history – which challenges all the most deeply-held perceptions about the practice, its origins, its extent, and its reception – with unparalleled access to the true custodians of tattooing’s history: the artists and their families who have cared for these objects and their stories over decades."

Research team

  • Dr Matt Lodder, School of Philosophy and Art History