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Tattoos Take Center Stage at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

“Before it becomes a mark, tattoo is a process. Its results can be a sign of identity, a rite of passage, a type of protection, a form of medicine, a memory made visible, or a piece of art to be collected and worn on the most intimate of canvases, the human skin.”

The above quotation is taken right from the wall text, which introduces TATTOO, the exhibition currently on view at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.  The text goes on:

“With examples on almost every continent, at nearly every point in time, it is also humanity’s shared legacy—a story over 5,000 years in the making, and a story in which Los Angeles plays a significant part.”

In addition to taking us through various tattoo cultures from around the globe, this wonderful exhibit also informs us on little-known traditions, like this one:

“The evidence of tattooed women goes back thousands of years, but did you know that the story of women tattooers is just as ancient? For millennia, women have performed tattoo rituals involving fertility, healing protection, and more.”

The above photograph depicts Whang-Od Oggay from the Philippines. Now almost 100 years old, she is one of the last master tattooers among the Kalinga people. Her old-school hand-tapping artistry is in great demand from tourists and locals alike. Trained by her father, Whang-Od is apprenticing a new generation of tattoo artists!

As an Angeleno, I had no idea that the city played such an important role in tattoo’s history. “From Long Beach to Whittier Boulevard, the Los Angeles area is central to the story of contemporary tattoo… black-and-gray realism—a tradition of fine-line, single-needle tattoos started on the streets of East Los Angeles and popularized in the correctional facilities of the West—moved from being a local phenomenon to tattoo shops all over the world, altering our expectations of what a tattoo could be and ushering in an era of incredible detail.”

Who knew? There’s much more to discover at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, where this in-depth look at tattoos culminates in the possibility of getting a tattoo right there in the museum! There is relocated tattoo parlor, where experienced artists are waiting to make you a part of history.

The exhibition runs through April 5th. I highly recommend it! Although here, at Earth Henna, we specialize in temporary tattoos—henna tattoos, jagua tattoos and white henna/glitter tattoos—we love all forms of body art and body adornment. And we especially love learning more about the thing that drives so many to decorate their bodies with temporary tattoos, to begin with: the love and popularity of permanent tattoos.

Photo: Whang-Od Oggay, Exhibition print / Photographer: Jake Verzosa

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