Kinsey exhibit depicts styles, evolution of tattooing style

The picture, which was taken in 1995 by Jeff Crisman, an associate professor for photography at Chicago State University, is the poster image for a new exhibit at the Kinsey Institute Gallery.

“Ephemeral Ink: Selections of Tattoo Art From the Kinsey Institute Collections” opened July 9 and will remain until Sept. 21. Gallery hours are 1:30 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

More than 50 photographs throughout the 20th century and as recent as 2011 display people’s tattooed bodies, demonstrating the evolution of tattoo styling and technique.  

Amy Tims, a historian and librarian who recently graduated from the School of Library and Information Science at IU, curated the exhibit during a fall 2011 internship at the Kinsey Institute.

“I think (the exhibit) shows both the evolution and then also the return to beginnings,” said Garry Milius, associate curator of art, artifacts and photographs at the Kinsey Institute.

The exhibit was first displayed at the Catholic liberal arts school Marian University Indianapolis in late February of this year.

According to an article in the Knight Times, the student newspaper at Marian, the exhibit caused discomfort among students who found some images to be too lewd.

The exhibit was shown at Marian after Jenny Pauckner, assistant professor of art and art history at Marian, visited the Kinsey Institute during summer 2011, according to the article.

Milius said a few pieces “didn’t make the cut” when the exhibit was being submitted to Marian.

“I think (Tims) was careful to select pieces that were appropriate for that setting,” Milius said. “I think she was surprised when a couple of pieces were removed from it. I think she also understood.”

During the curating process, Tims said she had free range to choose the pieces, which were all pulled from the Kinsey Institute’s permanent library collection, she wanted in the exhibit.

Tims said there has been a growing ubiquity of tattoos, although she doesn’t attribute the popularity to one main reason.

“There’s also, of course, this idea of the way tattoos become more mainstream, more common, the middle class thinking of tattoos, if you will,” said Tims, who has three crescent moons, three stars and an image of a Medusa on her inner left forearm. “Or there’s this idea of getting a tattoo is a fine art object on yourself as opposed to getting a tattoo as a mark of lower class status.”

Highlights include pictures and historical facts about Samuel Steward, a novelist and English literature professor who led a closeted life of homosexual activity and went by the pseudonym Doc Sparrow when he became an official tattoo artist in the mid-20th century.  

Colin McClain, who has been tattooing since 1999 and is currently employed at
local tattoo business Skinquake Precision Tattoo & Body Piercing, said he thinks tattooing was romanticized during that period and was seen as a deviant act.

Tims also pointed out depictions of tattoos of cultural symbols — celebrities, cartoon figures and political figures of contemporary entertainment — as another staple of the exhibit. In one photograph, which is originally part of a 2011 series called
“Transcendence II,” a man is injecting testosterone into his arm. A drawing of Ramona Quimby, from Louis Darling’s 1955 illustrated edition of “Beezus and Ramona,” is tattooed on the subject’s left arm.

“I think that as the social perception of tattooing changes, so do people’s perception of the act of getting tattooed,” said McClain in
an email.

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