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The Independent Online
The etched epidermis is not normally the stuff of art exhibitions. Though London's Victoria and Albert Museum has been known to house the odd bit of tattoo-influenced fetish gear, such institutions have never fully embraced tattoo culture. Wolverhampton Art Gallery, though, is not so squeamish, and has fleshed out its displays with Art Soul Skin, which opens today and hopes to explore the culture surrounding body art, its ritual significance, its place in the modern world and its status as an art form.

Since the word "tattoo" comes from the Polynesian word Ta-Tau, meaning "to strike repeatedly", a process inflicted on the skin by a pigment-dipped needle resulting in a tattoo, "Art Soul Skin" is not for the faint-hearted. On display are life-size portraits, close-ups of the etching process as well as videos of academic discussions on the subject. At the show's opening today there will be an assortment of real-life tattooed torsos on show as aficionados battle for tattoo supremacy.

Wolverhampton's resident tattooist and piercer, the appropriately named Spike, helped to assemble the show and kindly donated his macabre-looking tools of the trade for display. Spike describes his clients as "a canvas to work on", while emphasising the permanent nature of the ritual. "Tattooing can be used as a rite of passage or initiation," he explains. "Once it has taken place, the experience can never be undone. It is a life-changing decision; tattooing should not be treated in a flippant way."

Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Museum, Lichfield St, Wolverhampton (01902 312032) today to 4 Oct