British Tattoo Art Revealed at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Historic Dockyard Chatham Tattoo exhibition
Historic Dockyard Chatham Tattoo exhibition

The Historic Dockyard Chatham has opened its major temporary exhibition, Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed, following a four-month delay due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

On display in the No. 1 Smithery gallery until September 2020, the exhibition offers a ground-breaking and comprehensive history of British tattooing, featuring cutting edge designers, leading academics and major private collectors to tell a story that challenges long-standing myths and pre-conceptions around tattooing and class, gender and age. The exhibition also gives a voice to and celebrates the astonishingly rich artistic heritage of tattooing as an art form in the UK.

Showcasing the work of major tattoo artists from George Burchett via the Bristol Tattoo Club, to Alex Binnie and Lal Hardy, Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed is the largest gathering of real objects and original tattoo artwork ever assembled in the UK. The exhibition features items from three of the most important private collections of tattoo material in Britain belonging to Willy Robinson, Jimmy Skuse, and Paul ‘Rambo’ Ramsbottom, providing a rare opportunity to view original artwork and artefacts not otherwise on public display. The exhibition also delves deeply into previously unseen private archives that reveal hidden histories, including the incredible real story of Britain’s pioneering female tattoo artist, Jessie Knight.

The exhibition includes three major contemporary art commissions from three tattoo artists working in very different tattoo traditions. Each artist has created a unique design on a hyper-realistic body sculpture which speaks to the historic artefacts and artworks around it. Tihoti Faara Barff’s work celebrates the modern revival of Tahitian tattooing; Matt Houston’s commission is a heroic celebration of the sailor tattoo; and Aimee Cornwell, a second-generation artist and rising-star in the tattoo world, illustrates how tattooing is breaking different artistic boundaries with her own form of fantasia.

Featuring over 400 original artworks, photographs and historic artefacts, the exhibition not only showcases the rich maritime history of tattoos but also demonstrates how people from all areas of society have been tattooed throughout history.

Paul Barnard, Director of Communications and Assistant Chief Executive of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust said, “We are delighted to finally open the doors to the fantastic Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed exhibition. The timing for the lockdown could not have been worse for this show – it was a matter of days before our official opening. We produced some brilliant digital content supporting the exhibition and bringing it to life during our closure but nothing beats actually visiting it in person.

“There are long-established connections between seafaring and tattooing, and this exhibition gives our visitors the rare opportunity to explore these links through some exceptional exhibits and displays. We hope may people are able to enjoy it with us safely in Chatham this summer.”

Entry to the exhibition is included in an admission ticket to The Dockyard, which must be booked in advance online. The Dockyard has implemented additional safety measures in line with Government guidelines and have obtained the VisitEngland We’re Good To Go mark; visitors are advised that they may have to queue for a short time before entering the exhibition.

For more information and to book please visit