Skin Deep - the tattoo exhibition, 2002 (past event)

The 2002 Skin Deep exhibition at the National Maritime Museum brought together a fascinating range of objects to illuminate the history of tattooing.

This exhibition has now closed

Our Skin Deep exhibition was open between 22 March and 30 September 2002.

Skin Deep brought together a fascinating range of objects to illuminate the development and diversity of tattooing over the past 200 years.

Beginning with Captain Cook's first encounters of native tattooing in the South Pacific, the exhibition followed the adoption of tattooing by sailors, and its growth as a statement of fashion and identity in today's society.

Maori portraits

Frederick North, an Assistant Paymaster on board a survey ship in the south Pacific in 1878, took portraits of the Maori communities in New Zealand. Known ascarte de visite, they were the first popular form of portrait photography.

Skin Deep: the people's story

In 2002 the Museum worked with a group from Greenwich Youth Aid, using the exhibition as an inspiration. The initiative explored the motivation and symbolic meanings behind tattooing.

Timeline of tattooing

1768: Captain James Cook's first Pacific voyage began on board HMS Endeavour. Sydney Parkinson, the artist on the voyage, made many drawings of tattoos in New Zealand and the Society Islands.

1769: Joseph Banks, naturalist on theEndeavour, wrote the first European account of tattooing in which he described a young girl being tattooed in Tahiti.

1789: Mutiny took place on the Bounty off Tofoa in Tonga. Later at the trial of the captured Bounty mutineers, Lieutenant William Bligh identified them by the tattoos they had acquired in Tahiti.

1797: Missionaries arrived in the Pacific. They saw tattooing as a sinful practice and suppressed it on many islands.

1804: Russian explorer, Georg Henrich von Langsdorf arrived in the Marquesas Islands. The accompanying artist W. G. Tilesius von Tilenau made the first drawings of tattooed Marquesans.

1820: French sailor Jean Baptiste Cabri was exhibited at carnivals and fairs after being heavily tattooed in the Marquesas Islands.

1870: D. W. Purdy established a tattooing shop in north London which was possibly the first professional tattooing studio in Great Britain.

1882: King George V of England was given a tattoo of a dragon while on a visit to Japan with the Royal Navy.

1891: Samuel O'Reilly invented the first tattoo machine based on a piece of equipment by Thomas Edison which was used for engraving hard surfaces.

1900: It was estimated that 90% of all sailors in the United States Navy were tattooed.

1909: The United States government outlawed the recruitment of sailors with 'indecent or obscene tattooing'.

1940: Wartime morale encouraged a surge in patriotic tattoos amongst servicemen.

1961: Outbreak of Hepatitis in America resulted in a tattooing depression.

Late 1960s–70s: Renewed interest in tattooing led to the publication of tattoo magazines and the emergence of international tattooing conventions.

1980s: Revival of Maori tattooing traditions in New Zealand.

2002: Tattoos are more popular than they have ever been before. Pop, film and sport stars continue to increase the visibility of tattooing in popular culture.

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