Faith, Hope and Love, an exhibition about sailor's tattoos, opened on 13 December 2012.
The museum owns a collection of approximately 170 original tattoos of the 1920s and 1930s. Among the themes are nautical stars, fully rigged ships, exotic animals, women in various states of dress and undress, swallows, roses, anchors, and much more. A few of the tattoos have previously been used for an occasional exhibition or book illustration. Most of them have never been shown to the general public before.What is a sailor's tattoo? While revolving around the actual physical tattoos, the exhibition examines them in a much larger context. Why did sailors get tattooed and how did they choose their themes? If the tattoos were meant to speak for the sailors, what were they trying to say?
The issue has taken on new life in recent years as classical sailor's tattoos have become fashionable again. Tattoos that resemble those of the museum are seen everywhere and referred to as the Old School. But if they are no longer the jealously guarded property of sailors, who wears them instead? Who longs to adorn their body with an anchor, a rose or a swallow? And what meaning do they attribute to these ancient symbols?
Faith, Hope and Love looks at gender issues as well. How do sailor's tattoos reflect traditional concepts of femininity and masculinity? A tattoo is both a decorative and a communicative statement. It's not surprising then that they offer a glimpse into various historical ideals of gender and sexuality. Why did so many sailors chose tattoos that portrayed women in various states of dress and undress? And where did all the male symbols go? Just as interesting is to explore why contemporary women chose tattoos of the female form to express their own femininity.
Faith, Hope and Love will run from 13 December until the end of 2014.