Middlebury College Museum of Art

Exhibitions

Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World

June 10–August 7, 2016

This groundbreaking photographic exhibition explores the artistry of traditional Japanese tattoos along with its rich history and influence on modern tattoo practices.

Tattoo by Horikiku, photo by Kip Fulbeck
Tattoo by Horikiku, photo by Kip Fulbeck, 6 x 6 feet.

As Japanese tattoos have moved into the mainstream, the artistry and legacy of Japanese tattooing remain both enigmatic and misunderstood. Often copied by practitioners and aficionados in the West without regard to its rich history, symbolism, or tradition, the art form is commonly reduced to a visual or exotic caricature. Conversely, mainstream Japanese culture still dismisses the subject itself as underground, associating it more with some of its clientele than with the artists practicing it. Both of these mindsets ignore the vast artistry and rich history of the practice.

Although tattooing is largely seen as an underground activity in Japan, Japanese tattoo artists have pursued their passions, applied their skills, and have risen to become internationally acclaimed artists. Through the endurance and dedication of these tattoo artists, Japanese tattooing has also persevered and is now internationally renowned for its artistry, lineage, historical symbolism, and skill.

Tattoo by Horitomo, photo by Kip Fulbeck
Tattoo by Horitomo, photo by Kip Fulbeck, 24 x 24 inches.

Curated by Takahiro Kitamura and photographed and designed by Kip Fulbeck, Perseverance is the first exhibition of its kind. It explores Japanese tattooing as an art form by acknowledging its roots in ukiyo-e prints, and it also examines current practices and offshoots of Japanese tattooing in the U.S. and Japan.

Perseverance features the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists—Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii and Yokohama Horiken—along with tattoo works by selected others. Through the display of a variety of photographs, including life-sized pictures of full body tattoos, and sculptured objects, this exhibit covers a broad spectrum of the current world of Japanese tattooing.