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Morbid Anatomy’s ‘Tragic Tattoo Tales’ tells unfortunate stories of ink and romance

The writing’s on the skin: Historians share tales of tattoos, love, and tragedy

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Diamonds are forever, but ink is more specific.

Two experts on the cultural and artistic history of tattoos will tell tragic stories about one of the more painful demonstrations of love and devotion at the Morbid Anatomy Library this Valentine’s Day.

“The tradition of having lovers’ names tattooed goes back at least as far as the Roman era,” said University of Chicago lecturer Anna Friedman. “Presumably yes, they’ve been regretting it.”

In Rome, most unwanted tattoos marred the skins of slaves and criminals, but this created a real demand for tattoo-removal recipes — which Friedman says may have been useful for removing ancient iterations of heart-shaped tattoos as well.

The lecture won’t just cover inking in western cultures, but also love-signs around the world.

“In other cultures we have things like traditional marks of marriage, or betrothals, which were done as a sort of rights of passage.” said Friedman, who will share the stage with Matt Lodder. “There are other marks where, if you didn’t have it, then you weren’t marriageable material.”

In the end, the talk won’t be a heart-warming one, but it should live up to the Morbid Anatomy name.

“There’s some short stories about tattooing and romance, which are kind of creepy and weird,” said Friedman. “They always end with death, or some macabre consequence like being splashed with acid, or having the tattoo flayed off the skin.”

Tragic Tattoo Tales at Morbid Anatomy Library [543 Union St. between Nevins and Bond streets in Gowanus, (718) 243–1572, proteusgowanus.org/morbid-anatomy]. Feb. 14, 8 pm. $5.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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