Hywel Dix
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From naïve artists to integrated professionals
The portrayal of tattoos in Sarah Hall’s The electric Michelangelo and Alan Kent’s Voodoo pilchard
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Drawing on Howard Becker’s classic sociological analysis of different art worlds, this chapter analyses the portrayal of tattooing as cultural practice in Sarah Hall’s The electric Michelangelo and Alan Kent’s Voodoo pilchard, and the portrayal of the sites in which that practice is situated both discursively and geographically. The portrayal of the tattoo in recent fiction points to a radical instability in the perceived status of tattooing as social practice. The social practice of tattooing is situated in the context of rapid commercial development on the one hand; and of the activities of a ‘criminal’ underworld on the other. The chapter considers the legitimacy of tattoos as serious art in the early twentieth century and today, and the effects of this on the politically transgressive potential of the practice.

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