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Arts & Culture

Mint Museum Exhibit Explores Tattoo, Body Piercing And Nail Art As Fashion

Art museums are usually home to oil paintings or marble sculptures. But the Mint Museum in uptown Charlotte has a new exhibit in a very different form. The ‘Body Embellishment’ show pulls a variety of body piercings, tattoos, clothing design and even nail art into one exhibit.

Museums were not part of the childhood of Carlos Rolon, aka DZine. He grew up on the south west side of Chicago to Puerto Rican parents.They didn’t have a lot of money, so to make ends meet his mom ran a beauty salon out of their home.

"It created a really wonderful sense of community that I had never really experienced before. I loved that people who didn’t quite know each other would get together for the first time," says Rolon.

He strives to bring that personal atmosphere to museums.

"[At a salon] you tell [strangers] really intimate details that you wouldn’t tell anyone else. This is what was created in the nail salon space but it was even more intimate because you were in my living room," he adds.

Rolon’s exhibits have often been efforts to replicate the feeling and the community he felt in his childhood living room. A lot of his exhibits include bootleg nail salons, like the one his mom ran featuring nail artists from the community.

He creates really elaborate nail art. It looks nothing like you’re typical manicure. It’s more like five tiny golden gardens of sparkling antlers, spirals, feathers and glitter growing from your fingertips.

Rolon says the culture around this type of art is just as important as the art itself. 

"I mean people again who do the tattoos who do the nail work, they create this culture because they love it. It’s in our system, it’s part of our DNA. I’m just touching the surface on it," Rolon says.

There are other types of body embellishment that are part of this exhibit. One artist put black and honey toned jewels in a model’s skin. The photograph of her appeared to be taken right after the jewelry was placed –  with small red blemishes surrounded each piercing.

"[Tattoo] at its highest level is great graphic design, it requires enormous skill and training," says Annie Carlano.

Credit Courtesy of The Mint Museum
A piece by designers threeASFOUR

Carlano is the Mint Museum’s senior curator of craft, design and fashion.

The tattoos in the show are obviously photographs – not people – and are very detailed.One piece covers a man’s arms, legs and torso. The fiery scene featuring dragons and ocean waves was a massive undertaking and took the artist several years to finish.

Clothing design is probably the most expected component of the body art show. Three designers, who call themselves ThreeASFOUR, created a series of dresses that are hanging from the ceiling in a circle. They were rearranging the dresses as the tour went by. 

"We combine traditional craftsmanship which we call couture with really high tech methods like 3D printing and laser cutting," says Adi Gil, one of the designers.

Some are inspired by the earth’s topography while others look more like they’re covered in white molecular structures – a fashionable version of what you’d see in a high school chemistry class.

By the way, Bjork, the Icelandic artist, wore a threeASFOUR dress in one of her music videos.


Body Jewelry

Another category of the show is a little harder to define.  

Credit Courtesy of The Mint Museum
A headpiece by artist Ana Rajcevic.

There’s a photo of a white headdress. The model wearing it in the photograph is covered in white paint, and the headdress spreads from the crown of her head like white, bony wings.

"Some of the other pieces look like like elephant tusks or bird wings, they’re really unusual shapes. Wearing them, you become sort of a hybrid, person/animal creature," says Rebecca Elliot, an assistant curator of the show.

Body Embellishment is a show that Carlano has been working on with her team since 2010. The hardest part of putting the exhibit together, says Carlano was just picking what to include. There was so much to choose from.

The exhibit opened on April 11 and will run through the first week of September.

Rolon is here for the opening. And, he plans to come back in May to do another one of his collaborative projects with Charlotte area teenagers. He wants to continue his effort of creating intimate communities in impromptu nail salons.