• September 2015

Explore "Perseverance" — Japanese Tattoo Tradition in the Modern World — Through November 29 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

If you love tattoos — or are simply fascinated by them — you’ll want to witness “Japanese Tattoo: Perseverance, Art, and Tradition” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

On display through November 29, the exhibit focuses on the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists: Ryudaibori (formerly Horitaka), Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii, and Yokohama Horiken.

“They were inspired by the Japanese tradition of tattooing and heavily influenced by the traditional Japanese arts of calligraphy and ukiyo-e woodblock printmaking,” explains the show’s organizer, the Los Angeles-based Japanese American National Museum.

Specially commissioned photographs of work by each artist are displayed alongside tools and relief carvings, as well as a recreated Torii. This traditional Japanese gate, most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto shrine, symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred.

And that emotion is exactly what you feel as you walk through the exhibit, believes Jeffrey Allison, the manager of statewide programs and exhibitions at the VMFA.

“Richmond is the third most tattooed city in the country, so this show really resonates with the community,” Allison explains. “It seemed only fitting that the museum explore tattoo art right in our own backyard.”

In fact, the VMFA sent out a call to Richmond’s inked community to stop by the museum and have their art photographed by Norfolk photo-artist Glen McClure. Below, McClure captures not only the diversity of tattoos in the city and the personalities of the people who wear them, but also the compelling stories behind these pieces of art.

Consider this comment from Richmond resident Steve Barkley, who participated in the museum’s video project, Tattoo Stories.

“I have always been fascinated by tattoos but did not have the courage to get one until I saw my wife get hers,” Barkley shares. “Working with my wife’s artist, I told her exactly what I wanted — a Hokusai wave — and she did a great job. About a year or so later, I went back to the same artist. I told her that I loved the colors and the general pattern and shape of what she had originally done and asked her what she thought would look good with it. We went back and forth for a while and settled on an origami theme with cranes and whales.”

Megan Barber shared that she’s been getting tattoos since she was 18.

“I have been tattooed by at least 20 artists. I have gotten many words and phrases tattooed and have no regrets about any of them. I’m perfectly happy with every tattoo I’ve ever gotten, but my favorite is the spider web and roses on my neck and chest. Although I have so many tattoos, ironically, my son is terrified of them. He won’t let me even put a fake tattoo on him.”

Masumi Hyodo says that she stopped getting tattoos while she was having her kids.

“I recently got my first tattoo in 16 years, and now my tattoos are about my kids. My newest tattoo is a snake because my oldest daughter was born in the Chinese year of the snake, with a dog for my son and a tiger for my youngest daughter to follow. I’m of Japanese descent, and there’s a deep history of tattooing being taboo there. Because it’s not acceptable to show your tattoos in public, I’m nervous to visit family because I’m not sure how they’ll feel about my tattoos.”

Click here to read more.

And if you can’t make it to the 2015 show, check out the book.

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