Monday, 4 July 2016

The tattoo trail takes me to Toronto

Silicone body parts were giving to tattoo artists to "embellish" for the show.

You know you are obsessed with tattoos when it shapes your vacation.  I spent last week in Toronto to visit the tattoo exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.  This is a traveling exhibition from France, the Musée du Quai Branly to be exact.  It has had various titles in its tour.  It is a relatively modest show in physical metres or feet but it feels big.  The research is deep and spans antiquity to modernity, from religion to art, from circus to tattoo studio.  Oh, and the globe!  Japan, Thailand, and U.S.A., continental Europe– you name it.  Sadly, not Canada.  They do list Yann Black from Montreal in their Acknowledgements page but perhaps people will participate in the #ROM ink and that would be a whole other dimension.  And I will give the ROM full points for its day of lectures that did include Canadian scholars working in tattoo culture.

This from the circus component of the show.  It is a tattooist's travel case.
The biggest treats for me in the show were the videos.  Nearly each component or thematic area was complemented with touch screens featuring videos.  So, for example, you could see the pandemonium of a Yantra ceremony in Thailand.  One woman commented over my shoulder "what the heck is going on there?"  And so, I found myself explaining how yantra tattoos are forms of protection, sacred texts and the wearers go once a year to this spot to get them blessed, recharged if you will.  Their energy builds up and then the wearers go into rapture, exhibiting the animal spirits tattooed over their heart chakras.  Saffron robed monks are spraying them down with hoses.  Think of it as a combination of crowd control crossed with holy water.  The two teenagers my co-visitor was with thanked me and asked if I could give them a tour of the exhibit.  I was tempted.

After spending hours in this exhibit and a lunch break, I camped out in the bookstore.  The ROM has put together some pretty good reads on the topic of tattoo culture.  My favourite was a book about traditional tattooing among aboriginal peoples of North America.  But I didn't buy it because my meagre budget was going on the hard copy version of the exhibition catalogue - at $85.  I will admit that I spent the afternoon reading the books I didn't buy.  That's why there are benches in the gift shop, right?

The experience that I found most amusing on this trip, which had many delights, was a completely random event.  I was striding crossing a park the next day in TO.  I was going to read in Allan Gardens under the palm trees in the greenhouse.  I had the catalogue riding on my hip (it is 303 pages) and someone sings out to me, "Do you like tattoos?" Long story short:  I end up looking at "warrior ink", this man was inked in a penitentiary (he named two of them but frankly I am not up on my prisons) as a member of the "Indian Brotherhood"; he was Cree and born on nearby Regent Street. We talked for several minutes before I excused myself.  I got the feeling that the man had been able to turn his life around for the better.  Brian seemed disappointed that I didn't have a tattoo of my own to show him.  I explained that I studied tattoos.  I laughed when he said that I should take his photograph at no charge.  I really never know what my day will be filled with on the tattoo trail.  And no, I didn't take his photograph.
The catalogue is worth the $85.


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