“Ink, Icons, Identity: Exploring U2’s Brand Through Fan Tattoos,” an exhibit of the U2 Tattoo Project, runs Aug. 15–26, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla., at the University of North Florida (UNF) Gallery of Art, with an opening reception Thursday, Aug. 18. This unique multimedia exhibit examines the intersection of personal identity and brand identity through the tattooed fans of Irish rock band U2. It showcases bodily markings in the context of related U2 artifacts; presents the compelling personal stories behind the tattooed logos, symbols and lyrics; and explores the dynamic relationship between fan and band as U2’s visual identity passes into the hands and onto the bodies of fans.
After the UNF Gallery show concludes, the U2 Tattoo Project will take the exhibit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in September as part of a fan celebration of U2’s 40th anniversary.
Curated by Beth Nabi, assistant professor of graphic design and digital media at UNF, the exhibit displays the research of the U2 Tattoo Project, an ongoing international curation and study of U2-related tattoos. A 25-year fan of the band, Nabi studies U2’s visual identities, marketing and branding, and has presented her research on these topics at several academic conferences. She founded the project with visual anthropologist Chris LeClere and, coinciding with U2’s 2015 Innocence + Experience Tour, the pair traveled last year to 19 concerts in seven cities across three countries to document U2 fan tattoos. They interviewed nearly 150 fans from 17 different countries and photographed more than 300 tattoos. They also had the opportunity to interview in Dublin the two lead members of U2’s longtime creative team—Steve Averill, U2’s graphic designer since 1978, and Shaughn McGrath, U2’s graphic designer since 1990—to get the designers’ reactions to their work as tattooed on fans.
In 40 years as a band, U2 has accumulated a rich history of transient visual identities from each era or album, but no consistently used logo, like the Rolling Stones’ legendary lips-and-tongue symbol. The U2 Tattoo Project was created to study what, in the absence of that official logo, U2 fans get tattooed, and why. The project investigates the transition from marketing to body modification as fans go beyond ephemeral merchandise and permanently mark their bodies with a band’s identity.
The Aug. 18 opening reception, from 4:30–8 p.m., will feature a live-stream projection of a fan getting a U2 tattoo. Other special events, all free and open to the public, follow (visit UNF Gallery of Art or facebook.com/U2tattooproject for additional details):
Friday, August 19, 2016, 6–8 p.m.
Temples and Toilet Walls: Exploring the Art and Anthropology of Fan Tattoos
Lecture by Chris LeClere, co-creator of the Tattoo Project; instructor of anthropology, Flagler College; PhD candidate, The University of Florida
Thursday, August 25, 2016, 6–8 p.m.
Ink, Icons, Identity: Exploring U2’s Brand Through Fan Tattoos
Lecture by Beth Nabi, co-creator of the Tattoo Project; assistant professor, Graphic Design + Digital Media, UNF
Friday, August 26, 2016, 6–8 p.m.
FANtasy Islands: Participatory Audiences and the Contested Market of Ideas
Lecture by Dr. Linda Howell, Director, UNF Writing Program and Center
Contact Beth Nabi at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
U2 Tattoo Project photo gallery. Please credit photos courtesy U2 Tattoo Project. High-resolution files available upon request.