Next VizCult: Gemma Angel, Cornell University

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Abstract: The European tattoo is among the most mythologised and misunderstood folk art forms in Western cultural and art history; it is only in the past 20 years that new in-depth scholarship has begun to clarify and deepen historical understandings of this rich art form. Recent archive research has revealed new resources for the study of indigenous European tattoo iconography and practice, including collections of photographs, drawings and preserved tattooed skin specimens. This presentation will focus on a comparative study of these collections, framed within the broader context of 19th century criminological interest in the tattoo, and pathological interpretations of European tattoo iconography. Within this context, the tattoo as a surface signifier represented a kind of peculiar ‘social symptom’ of underlying psychological malaise, which could be ‘read’ and diagnosed from the formal aspects of the tattoo marks themselves, if one applied the appropriate interpretative tools.

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