About the Project

Stories on the Skin: Tattoo Culture at FAU
A Creative Collaboration between
The Jaffe Center for Book Arts and
Dr. Karen Leader, Visual Arts and Art History

The Jaffe Center for Book Arts is one of the true gems of the university, a singularly exquisite collection of "books as aesthetic objects"; and a bookmaking studio that includes letterpress, papermaking, workshops, films and live music events. What is most important is that rather than just a collection of books on shelves, it is a "center" of culture, of interpretation, of living art, in the heart of Florida Atlantic University.

"Stories on the Skin: Tattoo Culture at FAU" begins with the premise, posed by Arthur Jaffe, that tattooed bodies are a form of book, that can be read and interpreted. Tattoos are primarily a visual medium, but as a living art, they are a collaboration between the tattoo artist, the tattooed person, and the rest of the world of encounters, of reactions, of changed circumstances. The permanence of tattoos suggests that their meanings are as fluid as the life experiences of their bearers.

The project is designed to engage FAU's diverse student population in an exploration of the social, cultural, and artistic phenomenon of tattooing, specifically drawing out the relationships between the images themselves and the complex histories and narratives associated with them. While it involves research, the project is primarily creative, and interpretive.

Our team is based, physically, in the Jaffe Center, where a growing collection of tattoo-related books, articles and ephemera is being gathered. It also has an online headquarters, storiesontheskin.org, where one can find updates on the project and links to other creative tattoo endeavors.

Phase 1 was completed in Fall, 2010. An anonymous survey, open to all students, tattooed or not, on all campuses, was administered via MyFAU. 1,147 responses were recorded, collecting both demographic information and opinion data. With the survey and the events leading up to it including photo shoots, classroom visits and interviews, we started a conversation about tattooing as something much more that a fashionable trend. Student Survey Results Link.

For Phase 2, we took our show on the road with photographer Z. McCarthy-Koppisch and videographer Jonas McCaffery. The resulting exhibition, Student Body Art, was on view in the Wimberly Library at our Boca Raton Campus in Summer, 2010. Student Tattoos Link.

We also launched a Call for Participation, inviting students to send in their own ideas, stories, ways of dramatizing or visualizing the experience of being tattooed. Participants from all corners of the University shared their own life experiences, in many varied and creative ways.

Phase 3, which took place in Fall 2011, invited a group of those who submitted ideas for Phase 2 to participate in a series of workshops with our creative team to develop their stories, for an evening of performances, Stories on the Skin Live! The house was packed on November 17 for this one-of-a-kind event, and the whole night was filmed. To view some pictures go to our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/storiesontheskinatfau  

Phase 4: After 4 film shoots and two rough cuts, our film is done and we are so proud! The world premiere, on January 18, 2013, included live dance, music and theater performances and an art exhibition, on the theme of "tattoo culture." To acquire a digital download or arrange a screening, send an e-mail to Karen Leader at kleader@fau.edu . To view pictures of the even, visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/storiesontheskinatfau

The origins of our project stem not from any hypothesis or opinion about the practice itself. Instead, we are creative people, who believe that a university should offer opportunities to explore identity, perception, and personal choice, in an environment that is shaping the individuals our students are becoming. As an art historian collaborating with a center committed to books as aesthetic objects, our focus is on a visual medium, the tattoo, which, through interpretation and performance, will offer a deeper understanding of the artful presentation of the self to the world, with the body as canvas.

Keep up with the project through storiesontheskin.org


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