Collecting Tattoo Skin
Today, I came across Gemma Angel's blog post "The Tattoo Collectors: Film & Fiction," a fantastic piece on the macabre theme of flayed tattoo skin as collected art in literature and movies. Gemma is a tattooist and PhD student, who studies the preserved tattoo skins of the Wellcome Collection, a London museum that houses an array of medial artifacts. So she's my go-to source for the history and culture surrounding the post-mortem preservation of tattoos, which she explores throughout her fantastic blog Life and Six Months. [We've written about Gemma's work before here.]
In The Tattoo Collectors post, she particularly focuses on Roald Dahl's Skin and the German film Tattoo by Robert Schwentke. She offers these thoughts on both works:
It is interesting to note that both Schwentke's film and Dahl's story locate the preserved tattoo within the sphere of the art world - both treat the tattooist as 'great artists' in their own right, whether he be a painter or Japanese tattoo master. The value of the work is considered to be far greater once the artist/tattooist is dead. And both narratives identify the collector of tattooed human skin as fine art collectors who possess a cultured appreciation of the tattoo. Despite this, Dahl and Schwentke's collectors look down upon the tattooed themselves, occupying a more privileged class position.Gemma also discusses the very real practice of tattoo preservation, most notably the collection at the Medical Pathology Museum of Tokyo University, and she even offers an interesting anecdote about "the fetishistic tattoo collecting practices of Ilse Koch, the wife of commandant Karl-Otto Koch at the Buchenwald and Majdanek concentration camps."
The whole post is a great read. Check it.