The PhD Project: Cultural Memory, Historical Personality and Tattooing

The long anticipated PhD Project … currently in development … WATCH THIS SPACE

Description of research problem

There have always been historical figures that become celebrities for reasons outside of their historical/cultural role in society. Despite being the product of a particular era or culture, for a select group of figures there is something mysterious which continues to attract the attention and fascination of generations, long after the figure is deceased. The result of which is comparable to a celebrity following amongst people who are removed from the life and times of the figure with whom they are identifying. Che Guevara would be a good example. However, where once the cultural currency/language of Che was limited to posters or t-shirts, it is now increasingly being worn upon the skin.

Tattooing is becoming more popular in Western Cultures, but what does it mean and how has the meaning behind the images with which younger generations chose to adorn themselves changed? Specifically, how have tattoos come to represent modern culture and how might we read them as a new, visual language or form of cultural identity?

When we see images of a celebrity tattooed upon the skin, how might we read or interpret these? When we consider that there is no relationship between the artistic subject and the wearer of the image we must also consider the idea that the way in which the image is understood by the wearer and the wider society has a value outside of that which is historical. The fact that the artist subject has then been interpreted through the artistic eye of the tattooer is also worthy of considering when we examine this process.

When the subject being tattooed is an historical person as well as a celebrity, what are we actually seeing a representation of?

This project concerns itself with the Elvis tattoo specifically and in reference to Australian fans. Gen Y and Millennial groups, as well as older generations, will be approached to attempt to discern differing meanings for the tattoo and different understandings of who they understand Elvis to be.

Finally, we need to examine the fact that, unlike the t-shirt or poster of previous generations, which might be outgrown or discarded, the tattoo is a permanent symbol/marking. While it might be ‘grown out of’ as the person wearing it matures, it can never be completely removed. To some extent, this suggests that, as the person ages the relationship which they have with their tattoo changes in order to align with their changing attitudes around the person which they are wearing.

In the case of Elvis, we might ask how has cultural narrative dictated the reception of Elvis among younger fan groups? In addition, how will the cultural narratives around Elvis blend with the imagined personal relationships influence cultural memory over time?

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