Black and white portrait of a shirtless, bald white man heavily tattooed on his arms, torso, and head

Inked Bodies

Larry & Barbara Marshall Family Balcony, 404

In cultures across the globe, people use tattoos to commemorate events, mark social status, remember loved ones, and express aspects of their identity. This exhibition explores tattooing histories, processes, and motifs, and highlights the storytelling that tattoo artists and clients create together.

Until recently, tattoos were often stigmatized because they were associated with marginalized groups, such as Indigenous, queer, and incarcerated people. Tattooing has also been popular with many hyper-masculine groups, from sailors to gangs. However, many contemporary tattoo artists are working to make tattoo culture more welcoming, supportive, and inclusive. 

Tattoos are unpredictable—they can bleed, blend, and fade, or sometimes no longer fit a person’s identity. In those cases, tattoos can be layered over one another to refresh old designs or create something new, mirroring the ways in which contemporary tattoo practices build on diverse global traditions.

Curated by the 2023–2024 Spencer Museum graduate interns, Inked Bodies samples the diverse stories people tell about themselves through the application of ink on skin.

This exhibition and related events are supported by KU Student Senate and the Jack and Lavon Brosseau Academic Programming Fund.

Selected images