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Distinguishing Marks: Celtic Tattooing in America, curated by Jesse Franklin

Tattoos serve as an immediate visual indicator of a myriad of things. At some points in history tattoos were a status symbol that publically communicated one’s standing in a community. They also indicate a community by physically marking insiders against outsiders, or  the unmarked. In the United States individualism is a core value and tattoos are one way to claim ones independence as well as belonging.  Tattooing in America has been on the rise in the last decade. In younger generations is more uncommon to be markless than it is to proudly display one. These tattoos can range from simple designs to entire body pieces that take years to finish in the utmost detail. One common theme in American tattooing is the prevalence of Celtic motifs. These motifs can be a simple cross or a direct replication of a carpet page from The Book of Kells. The commonality begs the question, why? What does this appropriation and commodification of symbols serve to do for the bearers of these tattoos and the artists who create them? Were the Celts even tattooed?  To answer these questions it’s important to look at several factors. The history of Celtic tattooing along with the history of tattooing in America and its resulting influence on American culture and subcultures, particularly white supremacist factions.