With the patronage of


(1 à 5) © musée du quai Branly, photo by Gautier Deblonde.

(6) musée du quai Branly. Donation from M. Kanaseki

(7) Courtesy Galerie Gebr. Lehmann, Berlin/Dresden.

(8) From the artist’s collection.

(9) From the artist’s collection, Bangkok. Courtesy Galerie Olivier Waltman.

(10 et 11) © musée du quai Branly, photo by Thomas Duval

(12) © musée du quai Branly, photo by Claude Germain

tattooists, tattooed

Affiche de l'exposition "Tatoueurs, tatoués" (2015) - Click to enlarge, open in a new window

From 6th May 2014 to 18th October 2015


  • Anne & Julien / Hey !

Artistic advisor

  • Tin-Tin

Scientific advisors

  • Pascal Bagot 
  • Sébastien Galliot

Events related to the exhibition

About the exhibition

The exhibition returns to the sources of tattooing and presents the renewal of this phenomenon in its now permanent and globalised manifestation. In so-called "primitive" societies from the Oriental, African and Oceanian worlds, tattooing has a social, religious and mystical role and accompanies the subject in their rites of passage, including them in the community. Conversely, in the West, they have been seen as a mark of infamy, criminality, a circus attraction (with the phenomenon of side shows) and as a mark of identity for urban tribes.

During the first half of the 20th century, tattooing developed within marginal circles and remained a somewhat clandestine sign until being over-exposed by the media. Today, publicity and fashion take inspiration from these codes. Today, this geographical and antinomian approach is disappearing: in traditional societies, tattooing has lost its ritual exclusivity; in urban societies and in the "westernised" lifestyle, its marginal character is fading and it is becoming a relatively common bodily ornament.

University researchers have already examined the ethnological and anthropological values of tattooing, before exploring the sociological landscape and psychological meanings. Universities have recently been studying the popularisation of the practice in the urban environment, which establishes the body as a support for self-affirmation. But the artistic field and that of contemporary history remain to be explored. These are the domains explored by the exhibition, which offers a new insight into tattooing. In addition to the history of tattooing and its strong anthropological roots, it also emphasises the artistic nature of the practice, exchanges between tattooists from across the world and the emergence of syncretic styles.


Some of the works presented in the exhibition may be unsuitable for viewing by sensitive or younger visitors.



The exhibition in images

Exhibition synopsis

(7) Herbert Hoffmann tatouant des marins canadiens du porte-avion Bonaventure, Herbert Hoffman. Tirage sur papier argentique, 1966. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
(7) tattooing Canadian sailors on the aircraft carrier Bonaventure, Herbert Hoffman. Print on silver-halide paper, 1966.
(8) Portrait de femme algérienne, Marc Garanger. Algérie, tirages d'exposition négatifs monochromes, 1965. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
(8) Portrait of an Algerian woman, Marc Garanger. Algeria, monochrome negative exhibition prints, 1965.

The exhibition is divided into five main sections:

From global to marginal

The exhibition begins with a map of tattooed people across the world, showing the vast extent of tattooing from Antiquity to the present day.

The exhibition presents the omnipresent nature and diversity of tattooing practices across the world. It traces the history of tattooing, ranging from the Chalcolithic period (3350-3100 B.C.) - during which the Europeans appeared to have practised therapeutic forms of tattooing - until the 20th century, in which tattooing has become a means of communication, or a sign of membership within a group. It also focusses on the different social contexts, spanning the 19th century circus sideshows during which tattooed bodies were exhibited, through to the ethnic groups for whom tattoos indicate identity and social status.

Tattooists, tattooed and significant facts are brought together chronologically, in the style of a wall of fame to retrace the history of tattooing.


An art in movement

This section evokes the roots of tattooing in three creative areas: Japan, North America and Europe.

In Japan, tattooing was first a punitive tool used by the military powers, becoming discreetly ornamental in 17th century society and reaching its peak in the early 19th century. Tattooing is closely linked to that of engravings (ukiyo-e).

In North America, although tattooing was practised by a few Amerindian tribes, Martin Hildebrandt opened the first official tattooing shop in New York in 1846, and Samuel O'Reilly developed the electric tattooing machine in 1881.

In Europe, we find ancient traces of tattooing among the Romans and Picts, before it was repressed by Christianity until the 19th century.

 - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
(8) "Suikoden, pantomime in the snow" Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900), Japan. Paper, engraving on wood, print, inv. 71.1934.172.19.1-3.


new skin: the renewal of traditional tattooing

Tattooing for traditional, ethnographic, tribal or magic purposes also underwent a revolution. As a result of constant exchanges thanks to the development of transportation and tourism, the practice of traditional tattooing was influenced by a variety of outside influences. This section examines the renewal of these practises and their modern developments, concentrating particularly on the new schools of tattooing and the great masters of the following regions: New Zealand, Samoa, Polynesia (the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Hawaii), Borneo, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand.

(9) Yonyuk Watchiya "Sua", Cédric Arnold. Photographie originale, impression pigmentaire sur papier coton. Thaïlande, 2008-2011. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
(9) Yonyuk Watchiya "Sua", Cédric Arnold. Original photography, pigment print on cotton paper. Thailand, 2008-2011.

New territories of the world

The constant emergence of new schools indicates the dynamism of contemporary tattooing. In China where traditional and contemporary models are blended, the art of tattooing has recently resurfaced while Latino and Chicano tattooing takes its inspiration from popular Americano-Mexican iconography.

New inking styles

To conclude the exhibition, eight photographs of tattoos representing a new generation of tattooists illustrate original forms, compositions and characteristics. The film Mainstream Mode examines current trends.

Novel works

In addition, 32 works specifically produced for the exhibition are presented:

  • 13 tattoos or imaginary projects have been produced by masters of the art – representatives of contemporary tattooing – on volumes representing legs, torsos and arms in silicone ;
  • Blank canvases have been given to 19 tattooists from across the world in order to carry out tattooing projects. In the classic application of the Japanese bodysuit – a costume of traditional tattoos covering the body from wrists to ankles – tattooists have carried out these projects on canvas, with ink, acrylics, watercolors, graphite pencil or felt tip, to a more or less realistic extent.
(10) Tatouage, Chimé, silicone. France, 2013. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
(10) Tattoo, Chimé, silicone. France, 2013.
(11) Tatouage, Filip Leu, silicone. Suisse, 2013. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
(11) Tattoo, Filip Leu, silicone. Switzerland, 2013.
(12) Projet de tatouage, Alex Binnie, peinture sur toile de lin. Royaume-uni, 2013. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
(12) Tattooing project, Alex Binnie, painting on linen canvas. United Kingdom, 2013.

Exhibition media partners