As we all know, traditional Japanese tattooing or irezumi has always been met with fascination and praise by pretty much the rest of the world. The rest of the world except in country of its origin. For many years, tattoos were looked down upon in Japan for its notoriety as a symbol associated with criminal and barbaric behavior. Up to now, tattoos in Japan remain as a quasi-illegal practice—a remnant of the negative mindset.
Kip Fullbeck, a photographer and a professor at University of California Santa Barbara, witnessed this societal stigma in Japan during his stay. He was harassed in hotels, gyms, and bathhouses for showing off an impressive bodysuit we would have envied.
Those encounters and his fascination with the art of traditional Japanese tattoos inspired Fullbeck to work with Takahiro Kitamura, who curated ‘Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World’. The exhibit was funded by Henry and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Japan Foundation.
‘Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World’ featured life-size photographs of the astounding works by renowned Japanese artists like Horitomo, Miyazo, Shige, and Yokohama Horiken. The photographs were shot by Fullbeck himself. The photographer encountered letdowns among Japanese volunteers at the Morikami Museum who refused to take part in the exhibit. This did not deter Fullbeck and instead, prompted him even more to go on with the exhibit with his vision in mind.
‘I'm hoping to destroy that stigma,’ Fulbeck explained. ‘The woodblock print, Japanese pottery, kabuki theater–why do people say these are examples of great artwork when Japanese tattoos came from the same period? It's the same level of craftsmanship. It's fine art.’
The exhibit will be travelling to multiple museums in the future after its debut at the Morikami Museum in Florida. Tamara Joy, the chief curator of the Morikami Museum has nothing but appreciation for the art form.
‘Tattoos are getting more popular because people are now seeing tattoo and body adornment as more of an art form than an outlier,’ Joy said. ‘There is no more personal canvas than the human body.’
‘Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World’ will be on display until May 8 at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach.