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Sensi Buzz: Inked Up Art

Feb 19, 2018 09:40PM ● Published by Bobby Black

Using the human body as a canvas for artistic and religious expression is a practice that dates back over five millennia— and it’s one that only seems to have grown more popular in recent decades. Now, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles is paying tribute to that rich tradition with its latest exhibit, Tattoo: An Exhibition.

The exhibit features several educational videos, a slew of original paintings and classic “flash” sheets (tattoo designs on printed paper that typically hang in tattoo parlors), and some super interesting anthropological artifacts. Think: an inkpad used 250 years ago to tattoo Jerusalem pilgrims with candle soot and wine and an electric stencil pen by Thomas Edison—the model the first electric tattoo guns were based upon. The showcase also includes various needles and knives from around the world that have been used to drill ink into skin for centuries. Within the exhibit, there’s also a functioning tattoo parlor where visitors can watch live demonstrations—or even get inked themselves (advanced reservations are required).

Along with the historic tools, cultural ceremonies, and stylistic influences explored in the exhibit, the show also highlights SoCal’s local tattoo scene. An extra 3,000 square feet of new material is devoted exclusively to the City of Angels.

Southern California has played a profound role in tattoo culture. Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of NHMLA, explains that the area is the birthplace of several pivotal tattoo movements.

Long Beach is the home of the oldest continually running tattoo parlor in the continental US. Originally opened in 1927 by famed traditional artist Bert Grimm (who would eventually become the first inductee into the Tattoo Hall of Fame), the shop was later taken over by fellow tattoo legend Bob Shaw. Now named The Outer Limits Tattoo & Museum shop, it’s run by SoCal native Kari Barber—one of the world’s most revered tattoo artists. The exhibit also features SoCal native Freddy Negrete, considered one of the fathers of the revolutionary black-and-gray, fine-line style of body art. These prominent California ink-slingers are but the latest links in a long lineage of ancient artists, many of whom are contextually showcased in the exhibit.

Bettison-Varga explains: “Tattoo provides a special opportunity for our community to explore an often-misunderstood art form and shed light on the history and traditions of tattooing around the world and right here at home.”

Tattoo: An Exhibition runs until April 15, 2018 at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
For more info, visit NHM.ORG.
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