The National Maritime Museum Cornwall has opened the exhibition: British Tattoo Art: Reclaiming the Narrative, featuring 14 pieces of newly commissioned work created by 14 Black and POC tattoo artists, all working in the UK today, these new artworks represent a celebration of contemporary tattoo art on Black and brown skin. The installation forms a powerful artistic response to the museum’s critically-acclaimed 2017 exhibition Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, which was the largest gathering of real objects and original tattoo artwork ever assembled in the UK.
Reflecting on the original exhibition approach, which was groundbreaking in challenging deeply held cultural stereotypes about tattoos and tattooing in terms of class and gender, the installation responds to, and highlights, the current conversations around representation taking place in museums and galleries, as well as in the tattoo industry. These works have been commissioned to address omissions and cultural biases contained in the narrative of the 2017 exhibition, and are intended to be a direct intervention into a wider, necessary and vital conversation around diversity of representation – historical and contemporary – in the story of British tattoo art.
Guest curated by Alice Snape, and created in partnership with lead artist Charissa Gregson aka Glasgow-based Tattoo artist Rizza Boo, of Shadow Work Tattoos, British Tattoo Art: Reclaiming the Narrative is displayed as a thought-provoking and powerful challenge to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall’s own cultural decision-making around the original 2017 show.
Highlights from British Tattoo Art: Reclaiming the Narrative include:
Charissa Gregson’s tattooed torso, Starry Crown, which celebrates the Black female body and
forms the centrepiece of the exhibition.
Additional designs on synthetic skin plaques including works from:
Manni K, Jolie Rouge
Natasha Jackson, Prophecy Tattoo and Piercing
Lord Montana-Blue, The Good Fight Tattoo
Sarah Louise Powell, Neon Wolf Tattoo Studio
Samantha Bee, INKLOUNGE Tattoo Studio
Rakhee Shah, Xotica Tattoo Company
Nish Rowe, Blu Xion Tattoo
Jade Clark, Heart of Glass Tattoo
Samuel Ayobami Paul, Artkilledme
Ash Tyson, Ouroboros private studio
Yasir, Fake Skin Tattoo
Jezz-lee Wood, Samsara Tattoo Parlour
Pedro, Grey Area Custom Tattoos
The new installation runs alongside a re-display of key artworks from the museum’s
critically-acclaimed 2017 exhibition Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, which has returned from
a three-year national tour.
“Following the brutal killing of George Floyd in 2020, people all over the world have beenCharissa Gregson
engaging in more conversations about social injustice, police brutality, institutional racism and
We saw this echoed through the tattoo community with clients and tattooers sharing some of
their experiences of anti-Blackness within the industry, ranging from subtle microaggressions to
outright racism. There were conversations about the lack of appreciation and representation of
black artists, insensitivity when tattooing cultural subject matter, the harmful effects of
whitewashing photos of clients to fit a specific aesthetic and the general lack of knowledge and
misinformation around tattooing darker skin.
We know that representation matters. This exhibit feels like an important addition, showcasing
the work of Black and POC tattooers, making sure we are included in this particular record of
tattoo history. It is a small sign of progress that the plaques and silicone arms used in this
project are now available in a slightly more diverse palette, which one would hope will continue
to expand. Offering a wider range of colours, skin tones, so that even more people would see a
representation of their skin included in an exhibition like this.
When asked to contribute to this project, it was obvious to me that we must get more artists
involved. A single piece by one artist would only be the illusion of diversity and give a false
impression of the cultural and artistic diversity that actually exists in our communities. Holding
space for more artists and giving platform to their creativity, gives a truer look at who is
tattooing in Britain right now. With this project we seek to disrupt and challenge some of the
misinformation, give voice to the individual artists and allow us to share some of our collective