National History Museum

Inscribing Identity

Inscribing Identity

Youth culture and body art - Ancient practices popularised by the youth

Since the development of distinct cultures among various tribes, humans have had the desire to express their sentiments and social standing in a visual way.  The human body (especially the skin) presents a canvas that can be decorated and altered to express individual and group identity in a permanent or temporary manner.

Evidence of body art dates from the late Neolithic Period in Europe (8000 to 3000 BCE), found on a naturally mummified body discovered in the Alps on the Austrian-Italian border.  The mummy, who lived about 5 300 years ago, had various simple tattoos as well as a piercing in one ear. 

Body art has recently been re-embraced as a highly personal, subjective medium of expression, particularly among the youth.  An increasing acceptance of permanent or semi-permanent body art has enabled it to grow both aesthetically and ethically as a widely practiced and celebrated art form.

This exhibition explores the history and current application of body art among various cultures.