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Published on February 22nd, 2020 | by gareth

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Body of Work: Tattoo Culture:Museum of Pop Culture

From Malia Bonham

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop or EMP as some of us native Washingtonians still lovingly refer to it). To kick off the year, the MoPop introduced their new exhibit – Body of Work: Tattoo Culture. This exhibit, which runs through May 25, 2020 explores the popularity and history of tattoos and their impact on popular culture. On Wednesday, February 26 I had the opportunity to attend a special after-hours event to view this exhibit along with other popular exhibits including Minecraft: The Exhibition, Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses, and Indie Game Revolution.

First, let me start by saying if you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these after-hour events at the MoPop, I highly recommend it. As someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time at the MoPop other than during school field trips it was so refreshing to go after hours without the mass crowds. The ability to take uninterrupted photos and walk through at your own leisure without worrying about people waiting behind you is incredible. Most notably, I basically had the Indie Game Revolution room to myself and was able to test several different games—a rare opportunity at the MoPop.

Now, for the exhibits themselves. As the newest exhibit, everyone was checking out the Body of Work exhibit, we were given a tour of this particular exhibit and I found a few things notable. When you first step in it almost looks more like you’re in a history or art museum than the MoPop. It was very intentionally designed this way, showcasing the chronology of tattoo culture. Starting with the use of tattoos in Native American culture, wartime, carnivals and sideshows, then culminating with their use in pop culture. The second half of the exhibit definitely felt more like the MoPop, showcasing a photo opportunity in a tattoo parlor chair and displaying different tools of the trade. The center of the exhibit featured several tattoo artists specific to the Pacific Northwest. However, what I found to be an interesting feature was the panels on each feature that included raised lines to tactilely experience the artwork. The tour guide noted this was to both imitate the feeling of a new tattoo but to also make the exhibit more inclusive for seeing impaired guests.

Naturally, as a gamer, I gravitated towards the indie game room which very much gave me the feel of something you would find at a convention such as PAX, but without having to wait in line. Keep in mind, the demos drop you off in the middle of a game and the lack of instructions on the placards makes some games more or less enjoyable depending on how quickly you can figure them out. Next up was the Minecraft exhibit—now, full disclosure, I don’t actually play Minecraft. So, I’m sure if I was a huge fan of the game, I would’ve found it way more enjoyable. However, there’s a ton of photo opportunities in that exhibit and it was really quite cute to see the game almost “come to life”. This exhibit has some great displays that create an almost immersive experience where you can feel like you are part of the world of Minecraft.

Overall, this event was a fun way to experience the MoPop without the crowds and to really spend some time reading and enjoying the exhibits in a way you wouldn’t normally be able to. Again, if you ever get the chance to attend an after-hours event, I highly recommend it.


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