A multi-year project exploring the art and culture of tattoo takes center stage at Florida Atlantic University tonight in what's becoming an annual event. This year's show, "Academic Ink," includes tattoo-inspired work by faculty from the school's theater, music, and dance programs; a display of photographs featuring inked-up faculty and staff; and a keynote address by tattoo scholar and author Margot Mifflin titled "Art, Sex and Power: A Short History of Tattooed Women."
The project, jointly sponsored by the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and FAU arts prof Dr. Karen Leader, has surveyed the FAU community -- students, faculty, staff -- since 2010, documenting their ink and stories in print and on film. Based at the center, they've created an exotic library of tattoo-related material and a website called Stories on the Skin.
As a whole, "Academic Ink" is shaped around Margot Mifflin's presentation, Dr. Leader told New Times, touching on "arts, culture and feminist issues." She said the faculty performances are about "process -- how they developed a vocabulary around tattoo stories, some of their own stories, some student stories. They've worked with students to develop them so it's a pedagogical process in addition to a creative process."
The ongoing work of Leader's project is the documentation and accumulation of what now comprises "a distinct archive in our library: Thousands of student stories, hundreds of photographs, many hours of video and a ton of ephemera --advertisements and other pop culture artifacts. It's something of an ethnography." (You can see one student project below.)
Tattoo enthusiasm at FAU "centers on the arts and letters college," Leader said. "Our participant students have come from all corners of the academic world. When we called out for participation from faculty and staff, not too many people from the medical or nursing schools responded."
"There was a time when tattoo was really a subculture -- military, or gang or punk," Leader told us. "It's become mainstream now, through celebrities and sports figures. It's doing something different than what it used to do. It has to do with embodiment in the age of digital information and virtual life."