Tattoo Culture

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I don’t know how you feel about Tattoos, but I think they’re ugly and repulsive, so I wasn’t certain I would enjoy the new exhibit on Tattoo Culture in New York at the New York Historical Society.  Well, I absolutely loved it and intend to go back. It’s on until April 30th so there’s lots of time.

It seems tattooing started with the American Indians who used it as a form of identification and drew their unique tattoos on legal documents instead of signatures.  And wouldn’t you know it, New York was the leader in tattooing in terms of craftsmanship, art and business.  And when it was banned in New York City in 1961, tattooing flourished here in the underground until it was made legal again in 1997.

The exhibit has photos of the Bowery when it was NY’s tattooing headquarters, and examples of equipment and needles used for tattooing.  Special attention is focused on women and tattooing.  Many women had themselves tattooed and worked in sideshows and others became tattoo artists, themselves.  In fact, you could almost say that the women who worked in the sideshows and others who became tattoo artists were early examples of feminists who decided to take care of themselves and support themselves.

Today New York is still the center of the tattooing culture and the international reach of NY’s influence on the art world is demonstrated by works of tattoo artists from Denmark, Japan, Mexico, China, Brazil, the UK and Italy.

Get the details.


Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity firm in Manhattan.  She may be reached at

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