Tattoos, Corsetting And Body Modification At Cartwright Hall

By Emma Robertson | 29 August 2008
a photograph of a bald heavily tatooed man with a hoop through his nose and a large peg through her ear

Picture courtesy Cartwright Hall

Exhibition Preview: The Body Carnival at Bradford Cartwright Hall Art Gallery from August 30th August 2008

For many people the term body modification will conjure images of extremists, head to toe in tattoos and piercings. But a new exhibition at Bradford’s Cartwright Hall aims to celebrate a wider definition of the word to encompass everything from corsetry to make-up.

Visitors will be greeted with a ‘wall of mirrors’ and asked to consider their own levels of body modification - from how their hair is cut to the style of their clothes.

The exhibition is the brainchild of curator Joolz Denby who is heavily inked herself, and an outspoken advocate of all forms of body modification.

An Orange prize-nominated author, poet and academic, Denby believes that whilst tattooed people almost exclusively view their non-tattooed counterparts without judgement, the same is not true the other way round.

Her aim is to ask audiences to consider just how widespread modification is in society and the varied forms that it can take.

Exhibits will include Anthony Bennett's life size sculptures of the golden 'Pierced Angel' and 'The Great Omi' , alongside photographs of body modification taken by leading photographers Ashley and Ian Beesley.

Visitors will also have the chance to see the inner workings of a tattoo studio in the presentation 'Bijou Tatu', demonstrated by curator Joolz Denby in her alternate role as a practising tattoo artist.

One of the more surprising subjects of the exhibition is an examination of the practice of corsetting. Once the compulsory uniform of the genteel lady, corsets had since been consigned to pre-feminist history.

Recently, though, they have undergone something of a revival, cropping up in collections by Viviene Westwood and Alexander McQueen.

A history of the practice charting its journey from ‘underwear to outer wear’, and its growing popularity will be explored in the show.

a balck and white photo of a woman's midrif in a black corset

Picture courtesy Cartwright Hall

Self-professed corsetting enthusiast, Fran Levy, who will be taking part in a workshop exploring the practice of ‘lacing’ explains the appeal: “When you wear a corset you walk tall, it gives you confidence. And it is tranformative without lasting forever."

For Fran her interest, perhaps surprisingly, also has a post-feminist agenda. “Sixty years ago if you didn’t wear a corset you would have been considered unfeminine. Now, wearing one is about a choice. It is a statement."

"I grew up admiring the 1950s aesthetic and now I see it as it a form of escapism from the androgynous fashions of the mainstream."

As for other forms of body modification Fran agrees that high-profile celebrity endorsements and programmes like Miami ink have helped fuel more understanding of activities such as tattooing.

“It’s certainly more widespread, but there are still situations where I would not show my tattoos," she says.

"It is similar to not wearing a very short skirt to work. There’s a time and a place.

Fran Levy will be running a corsetry workshop on Friday 26th September.

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