HHL Students Explore Grassi Museum Exhibition “Tattoo and Piercing”

Exchange students visiting a tattoo exhibition

Written by Anne-Christin Grob, Manager International Relations

On Saturday, 11 November 2017, a group of students met at the Leipzig Museum of Ethnography – the Grassi Museum – to explore a new exhibition entitled „Grassi Invites #4: Tattoo & Piercing – A World Skin-Deep“. The tour was organized by the International Relations Office of HHL.

Following a new approach, the exhibit not only portrayed objects, drawings and photographs from collections in Herrnhut, Dresden, and Leipzig dating back to the 18th and 19th century but also incorporated current tattoo and piercing visions from around the world.
In a previous stage of the exhibition, visitors and their tattoos were encouraged to become an integral part of the exhibit, and as a result, we were able to take a close look at many photographs of people with tattoos from different areas in Germany who also shared their stories about them. Our tour guide analyzed motivations of people to get a tattoo, what role tattoos used to play, and what their functions are today. Students shared stories of the meaning of tattoos in their home countries, and we had a lively discussion about tattoos and their wearer’s perception by their respective society. The exhibition featured an installation of life-sized photographs which were animated to underscore the vibrancy of the people in the photographs. 

We explored objects, paintings, and texts from Polynesia which were brought back to Europe from travelers and scientists in the 18th and 19th century. We listened to stories of Parridero, more widely known as Omai, who together with James Cook traveled to Great Britain in 1774, and became popular in Britain’s aristocratic class.  We also heard of Jean Baptiste Cabri, a Frenchman who – as an adolescent – stranded on the Marquesas Island and got tattooed all over his body. He eventually returned to Europe where his tattooed skin attracted large audiences. We examined traditional Indigenous methods and instruments of tattooing as well as tattooing tools from a variety of other sources. After the guided tour, students were encouraged to take a look at the other anthropological exhibitions of the Americas, Australia, and Polynesia and explored the museum some more.

A total of 241 students from 41 different countries started their studies at HHL in this fall term 2017. They moved to Leipzig from India, China, the USA, Peru, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Poland or France to start their Master program at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management. Additionally, new doctoral candidates and numerous international exchange students from 130 partner universities worldwide also took up their studies at HHL.