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You are in: Bradford and West Yorkshire > Blast > Tat-too Or Not Tat-too, that is the question!

Tat-too Or Not Tat-too, that is the question!

Tattoos, piercing and body modification! Ryan's been to Bradford's Cartwright Hall to view an exhibition celebrating body art. Find out how the Body Carnival changed not only his views on tattooing but on how we see ourselves and others...

Tattoo on a man

Roy and his Tats.

My friends all have them and there was that stage in our early years when everyone seemed to be adding art to their body. A couple of pals had big hoops in their ears while the best tale is about a group of friends who went to Spain. Upon arrival in the country they began to plan their holiday and talks soon centred around everyone getting a tattoo. After lots of peer pressure, two decided to go off and have someone draw on their body. One friend had his name scribed on his back and to this day won't admit that it's wonky.

The best tale comes from the other daredevil'' story. He decided to have a pattern on his shoulder a lot like a lightning fork. A little background information is needed: this chap was very malnourished. Used to living on a diet of Pot Noodle and processed chicken he had eaten very little on the holiday and like most young lads consumed lots of alcohol. What I'm laying down here is a recipe for dehydration - you see, what happened is that during his tattoo he fainted. Not only did he faint but he had a mild seizure. This prompted the woman administering the tattoo to put her fingers down his throat to stop him swallowing his tongue. As he came around a little dazed and unsure where he was, he bit the lady's fingers and she promptly refused to finish his tattoo.To this day my friend still tells people the tattoo is meant to look the way it does but upon seeing it with my own eyes, my fear of them is cemented. This is why it's a little out of character for me to go to an exhibition at Bradford's Cartwright Hall to see some pretty extreme cases of body art. Who knows, maybe this will change my mind! 

A Tattoo

Old school tats with new school slants.

The idea for a body art exhibition came from the people at Cartwright Hall but, looking for someone to develop and curate the plans, they turned to local tattoo artist Joolz Denby. Joolz is more than a tattoo artist - let's just say that if she wanted to tattoo her achievements on her arm they wouldn't fit! Come to think of it she'd struggle to fit them on Mr Tickle's arms. From poetry writing and reciting to being awarded a gold disc from EMI for her album cover art on New Model Army's 'Thunder and Consolation', Joolz has fingers in numerous pies. She writes novels, manages bands all the while maintaining what she describes as "excellence".

The exhibition has been in planning since 2003 and this certainly shows. It's made up of photographs, sculptures and displays that all show body art in some way. From a brief history of corsets and plastic surgery to a sculpture of a pierced angel, the works all highlight the diversity on offer within the body art fraternity.

As I arrive at the exhibition I'm instantly taken by a piece so lifelike I don't dare take a photo. I can't decide whether it's a sculpture or a person standing very still. After finally plucking up the courage to touch the sculpture and the epiphany that it's not, in fact, a real person, I decide to take in some more of the exhibition. There are some brilliant examples of tattoos on the wall. The photographs show very bright, vivid designs. About to leave the main hall and stroll to the second room I notice a couple laden with tattoos and piercings so I approach them for a chat. 

A body art sculpture

Alive or not ?

Roy Wood and Cindy Whitaker are great. They tell me: "It's an addiction. After you have two you just want more". Roy has huge tattoos on his arms, back and chest and I can't resist asking him to show me. The pair tell me that the tattoos I have been looking at on the wall are a reflection that the 'old school tats' are back. They tell me: "Anchors, ships and light houses are all back in this year". What I note is that while the old-style tattoos are now in fashion they have been given a modern slant with intense, bold colours being used. I talk with the couple about people's attitudes towards body art and they say: "We are often judged because of our tattoos". This is something I must shamefully admit to doing. I'm as guilty as the rest. I have often made my mind up about people because of their image and this is wrong.

The second room is set up like a tattoo parlour with a glass display cabinet showing the tools of the body art trade. There's a huge check list pinned up which shows the process that should be followed when getting a tattoo. Joolz tells me: "We're trying to educate people because tattooing has become such a fashion...It's a huge industry. Public ignorance about what the process entails is colossal, especially amongst young people. One of the things we wanted to show young people is how to have a safe tattoo...You have to be pragmatic, you're not going to stop them getting tattoos but you can educate them".

This is the ethos behind the exhibition, using the space to show people body art up close and try to change attitudes towards those who indulge in it. Joolz adds: "A lot of people are prejudiced against tattooed people. They don't realise they are, but they are...Social inclusion and diversity needs to extend to cultural groups. The tattoo and body modification community are a cultural group". The exhibition does just this and, after chatting with Joolz, I can feel my own prejudice shifting. I realise that the people who take on body modification in anyway are only expressing themselves. This expression is very similar to the way in which I choose my clothes or style my hair.

Tattoo display

Some serious equipment.

This is a different exhibition in the fact that it's the first of its kind in Europe. An exhibition curated by an insider, by someone who is attached and involved in the body art culture. I enjoy my morning at Cartwright Hall and chatting with Joolz really opens my eyes to my own prejudice. Although at this point in life I don't fancy body modification, I can really see why some people do. The exhibition highlights numerous styles of body art and rather than the unoriginal work I often see scrawled on people's arms, presents body art at its best!

The Body Carnival will be at Cartwright Hall in Bradford's Lister Park until the 30th November 2008.

last updated: 04/09/2008 at 12:42
created: 03/09/2008

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