Geisha vignette with cherry blossoms. | Courtesy Claudia de Sabe

Anna Felicity Friedman’s new book, The World Atlas of Tattoo, is due out Sept. 15 (Yale University Press). Friedman, a local writer, historian and curator, has made tattoo culture her specialty. The book, according to a recent press release, includes over 700 illustrations and analyzes tattoo cultures, past and present, throughout the world. This is not Friedman’s first published work, having co-authored a few other books.

In development for the last 18 months, World Atlas incorporates the work of dozens of tattoo artists. Although she made most of the “curatorial” decisions, Friedman worked with a team of writers. 

The coordination presented some challenges.

“Convincing 100 incredibly busy, prominent tattoo-ers to submit photos and provide biographical material was a feat of strength, endurance, and finesse. … The process of editing texts from 10 contributing writers, some of whom did not have English as their first language, to form a cohesive voice, also was a challenge.” Friedman told the Review.

Despite Friedman’s academic underpinnings, she said “[World Atlas] is absolutely approachable! It offers a comprehensive overview of the incredibly wide variety of tattooing going on today.”

Yale University Press gave the Review a preview of the soon-to-be-released book. Each of World Atlas’ seven chapters focuses on a distinct geographical location. Every section includes an introduction highlighting the specific regional history and styles followed by dozens of local artist profiles. Readers can expect to find many pages filled with full-length vivid images that allow for the careful examination of hundreds of tattoos.

As a self-described “teenage punk rocker” growing up near Boston in the 1980s, Friedman began to develop an interest in tattoos. Attracted to the anti-establishment sentiment and aesthetic appeal, she began reading about tattoo culture in high school.

“The two melded together — my artsy inclination with the desire to be permanently marked as outside the mainstream and part of a particular subculture,” Friedman told the Review in an email.

She moved to Chicago in 1992 to pursue a Bachelor in Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by a master’s degree in art history. She also has a Ph.D. in history of culture from the University of Chicago.

Friedman’s academic pursuits concentrate on Euro-American tattoo history but she has also studied non-Western cultures.

“My main interest is in uncovering new primary sources that help to expand our understanding of tattoo history — digging in manuscript archives, looking for tattoos in historical images — or deeply analyzing sources that have not been properly critically assessed. So much of tattoo history has been based on myths that arise from folklore, anachronistic views of history, or problematic cultural assumptions that there is much in the record to be straightened out.” Friedman said.

Attracted to Forest Park’s school system, Friedman and her daughter, eventually left the city. In Forest Park’s eclectic community, filled with blue-collar workers, musicians, artists, military personnel and young families, Friedman has found many individuals who share her passion.

“I was so pleasantly surprised to see many, many parents with tattoos on the playground when my kid started at Garfield [Elementary School]. There’s even one parent with more than me, and that’s saying a lot,” Friedman noted.

“Forest Park has such a wonderful mix of people from diverse backgrounds that you get a high percentage of people with tattoos.”

Author duties aside, she stays busy working as a curatorial director for Quatrefoil Associates, an exhibition design firm, while also maintaining her blog, Although hoping to publish more books in the future, Friedman is currently planning an exhibition, set to debut in fall 2016, titled “Tattoo: Ancient Myths, Modern Meanings.”

She also intends to use IndieGoGo, a crowd-funding website, to launch a campaign focused on supporting tattoo research and education. As reported by the Review in February 2014, Friedman traveled to Antarctica with renowned tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle and she is now working on editing a documentary chronicling the experience. 

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