Artists explore ancient and modern body art in Tattoos in Contemporary Art

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Tattoos have become a popular modern art form, but Juli Morsella is exploring tattooing's ancient, sacred roots and has put together an exhibition with works by artists from all over Europe and the U.S., examining tattoos from around the world. The show, Tattoo in Contemporary Art, opens Friday, March 21, at 910 Arts.

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Morsella, who recently moved to Denver, has spent the past 25 years splitting her time between Hawaii and Italy. While in Hawaii, where tattooing has been part of the culture for centuries, she became fascinated with the art form. "It's not so much an act of vanity or body decoration there," Morsella says. "It's considered extremely serious and sacred in Hawaii."

Morsella's own work focuses on marquetry, arranging wood veneers to form an image. Her work in this exhibition, her first in Denver, interprets the relation she sees between tattooing and the most ancient forms of art. "I am interested in how tattooing, when done as a sacred act, resonates with what the very first human artists did in caves and on rocks, placing images on curved surfaces with the intention connecting with the spirit world," she explains.

Although tattoos have taken on different meanings in modern society, Morsella believes most people get body art for reasons deeper than just vanity. "I think many times there's something very ancient about it. It's totemic, it's a protection, it's empowerment," she says.

For the show, she collected pieces from artists in both this country and Europe, asking them to interpret the aspects of tattooing that most struck them. The result was a wide variety of submissions, featuring photography, wood-turning, print, paint, ink and video.

The exhibition opens with a free reception at 5 p.m. March 21 at Morsella's studio at 910 Arts Building, suite 104. The exhibition will run through April 4. For more information, visit Morsella's website.

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