Project II: Inmate Tattoo

Since way back a tattoo has been an important means of ventilating feelings in a seemingly indelible manner. Yet still a taboo dominates this practice in the penitentiary context. Among other difficulties the rise in clandestine use of self-manufactured equipment for producing tattoos has contributed to the spread of HIV and hepatitis.
In 2007, an agreement arose with the penitentiary government concerning a cooperation conducted over a full year between the organization and inmates of Oudenaarde with as a result an exhibition which would create an open discussion concerning tattoo practices and body painting. The exhibition The ornamental body is spread out over three shutters.

SHUTTER 1: An exhibition which travels around in penitentiary centres:

The ornamental body. Inmate tattoo

Initially inmates would photograph each other’s tattoos. Restrictions were applied as artistic challenges. Students of the social college Heverlee and of the art school La Cambre participated in 2007 actively in workshops until Mariette Michaud eventually was able to photograph the rhythm of the inmates themselves. The exhibition exists out of three parts:

  • An interactive part consisting of five groups of lightboxes. Pictures of the making-off are accompanied by music, interviews and testimonies.
  • A second part exists out of steel plates with close ups of tattoos and painted bodies of inhabitants. Tribals and intimate images reveal details of the life of the tattooed.
  • Finally, a triptych which outsiders may see in the visitors room. This shutter argues for the upgrading of body art on the penitentiary scene and stops the frequent phenomenon of tattooing by inmates being a taboo.


Start in Oudenaarde prison followed by venues in other prisons and cultural centers.



May 1 ’08 – May 31 ’08 Prison of Oudenaarde
September 13 ’08 – October 23 ’08 Prison of Leuven
November 24 ’08- November 28 ’08 Parlement of the region of Brussels Capital
May 1 ’10 – May 23 ’10 Biennale de St. Hubert
January 17 ’11 – january 28 ’11 Expo Clair Obscur
Atrium de la Communauté Française Bruxelles
September 11 ’11 Open Monumentendag in prison of Oudenaarde
November 18 ’11 – December 14 ‘11 Expo “Claire et Obscur” at townhall of Ougrée
November 29 ’12 – December 20 ’12 Expo Portes Ouvertes sur la Prison
Maison de la Cohésion Sociale Anderlecht
April 29 ’13 – May 24 ’13 Athénée Royal de Marche-en-Famenne
March 14 ’16 – April 22 ’16 La Louvière
Loan of the expo

For loan to other penitentiary institutions and other spaces contact us.
Costs of insurance are NOT on behalf of Art Without Bars.
It is possible to loan each part of the exhibition separately.

SHUTTER 2: An exhibition accessible for the public:

The ornamental body. Mariette Michaud + five artists.

Inmate tattoo with the photograph of M. Michaud was the departure point for the Witte Zaal Ghent to invite five other artist to reflect concerning…. A video portrait of a detained tattoo artist and a slide assembly of the making-off of Inmate tattoo, break a lance for study into new recent developments of body decoration which thrive in detention.


De Witte zaal in Ghent


May – June 2009.

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