You may now bequeath your tattoos to your loved ones to frame and display, just like any other work of art that you value or that may be a family heirloom. Save My Ink, a new professional service offered by the National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art (NAPSA), treats body art as a work of fine art and is the first to offer such preservation on a mass and professional scale.
“You would never burn a Picasso or any piece of art you invested in and had a passion for,” said NAPSA’s executive director Charles Hamm, who also co-owns a tattoo studio outside Cleveland. “Your tattoo is also art with a unique story, just on a different canvas.”
The process is open to only members — 18 years old and up — of the nonprofit association, who pay an initial fee in addition to yearly dues. Those ready to pass along their dermis for posterity identify the piece they wish to preserve (which cannot be inked on the face or genitalia) and designate a beneficiary; within 18 hours of one’s passing, the beneficiary then alerts NAPSA who will overnight send a removal kit and paperwork to the funeral home. The embalmer has to then remove the tattoo — or tattoos — within 60 hours, place it in a “nontoxic temporary preservation compound,” and send it back to NAPSA, who will preserve the tattooed skin and return it to the beneficiary within three to six months. According to NAPSA, most funeral homes and embalmers are willing to follow through with the fairly easy removal process, although the organization also has a master embalmer who is building a network of funeral home providers for the service.
The idea of framing a slice of your loved one’s skin is a little creepy and stomach-churning — and Save My Ink will undoubtedly face its share of critics — but beneficiaries won’t end up with a framed maggot-magnet. The process, which took a year to perfect, according to NAPSA, is “essentially a chemical and enzymatic process that permanently alters the chemical structure thus permanently fixing it against decomposition (while preserving the integrity of the art).” The process also touches up and enhances the work, returning it to its original look — making the procedure quite similar to the conservation of a priceless painting.
“These pieces should be treated as what they are, fine art,” Hamm told Hyperallergic in an email. “If one frames the piece according to NAPSA guidelines and keeps it out of direct sunlight, the piece should last forever.”
In terms of legality, NAPSA says that challenges arise depending on how regulators classify tattoos at various steps of the process – although, since it firmly believes that “recovered” body ink is, in fact, simply art, Save My Ink is merely “fulfill[ing] the wishes of many art collectors in the country.” The service will, however, work on behalf of its members around the world to overcome any possible regulatory hurdles.
The launch of Save My Ink emphasizes the increased perception of tattoos as fine art — likewise indicated by the language tattoo enthusiasts increasingly adopt that was once reserved for non-body art (such as “collector”). Many tattoo artists also work on mediums beyond skin and participate in gallery shows (this November, some will even have original work auctioned off). This past weekend, NAPSA even exhibited its own gallery of preserved skin art at the Las Vegas Tattoo Convention, and Hamm tells Hyperallergic that the association plans to have the art in a museum one day.
The display of tattoos in museums is an ancient tradition, and many institutions have centuries-old specimens: London’s Wellcome Collection, for example, is home to the world’s largest collection of preserved body art; the French National Museum of Natural History also has over 50 pieces; and the Musée du Quai Branly’s soon-to-end exhibition, Tatouers, Tatoués, features an entire marked arm. Such historic works, however, are artifacts, originally saved to be studied, and are now often placed in glass cabinets for public viewing. Save My Ink instead preserves body art for its artistic worth, and its eventual display in private homes is a much more intimate (if not unusual) gesture.