My body - my canvas

Once a symbol of defiance and nonconformity, tattoos have evolved into a mainstream form of self-expression. What was once exclusively associated with warriors, sailors, and outlaws as a badge of rebellion and individuality has now transformed into intricate works of art adorning human skin. Tattoos serve as narratives, each telling a unique story worth exploring. And what better opportunity to delve into this world than at the Poznań Tattoo Konwent 2024 coming up this March?

A woman in a futuristic outfit kneels on the stage, with a large audience gathered in front of her. Bright points of light float above people. - grafika artykułu
Poznań Tattoo Konwent 2023, photograph: Bartek Modrzejewski

The fascinating history of tattoos encompasses multiple threads and spans a variety of societal and cultural shifts. In ancient times, tattoos symbolised belonging to a specific social or ethnic group or served as protective charms against evil. Slavic tribes in present-day Poland imbued tattoos with ritualistic and mystical significance. However, as religious, and societal norms evolved, tattoos fell out of favour and were gradually driven underground.

It wasn't until the 19th century, with advancements in maritime technology facilitating global exploration and cultural exchange, that tattoos experienced a resurgence, also in Poland. Initially associated with sailors, who would bring home not only foreign goods, but also keepsakes from their travels inked permanently into their skin. During the interbellum in the 20th century, tattoos gained traction as a form of artistic expression, albeit remaining on the fringes of mainstream acceptance. During Poland's communist period, tattoos became a distinguishing feature of the criminal and prison underworld and served as a visible symbol of resistance against the ruling regime.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as political and social landscapes rapidly shifted, tattoos gradually gained popularity and acceptance in mainstream society. Today, they are far less likely to carry connotations of societal fringes, criminality, or deviation. Instead, they have become a means of self-expression, conveying emotions, experiences, and beliefs, commemorating significant life events, and honouring loved ones. They are increasingly recognised as a legitimate form of artistic expression, boldly crossing boundaries of subcultures and multiple generations.

Over the past decade, the art of tattooing has seen significant transformation in other aspects as well, driven in part by advancements in tattooing technology. Tattoo machines have become lighter, more precise, and easier to use, enabling artists to create more intricate and detailed designs. Additionally, digital design tools, such as graphics tablets, have facilitated the creation of complex patterns prior to application on skin. Notably, there has been a marked increase in professionalism, owing to widespread training opportunities, workshops and a focus on occupational health and safety, helping to raise industry standards, and improve environmental awareness, propelling the adoption of a variety of safe, non-toxic tattoo pigments.

Once shunned and barred from many professions, tattoo wearers are now widely accepted across a broad spectrum of sectors ranging from art to business. A significant milestone highlighting this acceptance occurred in January 2023 when Poland passed a law allowing police officers to display their tattoos while on duty. This symbolic transformation underscores the journey of tattoos from their subcultural niche to fully recognised works of art. As tattoos have emerged from their subcultural niche, interest in them surged leading to the proliferation of dedicated tattoo events like the Tattoo Konwent, Poland's largest series of tattoo festivals, originally conceived to dispel the numerous myths that surround this form of artistry.

"That was a very different time. Tattoos were not yet considered a lifestyle choice. They were often associated with stereotypes and elicited negative reactions. To change this perception, we showed tattoos as a form of art, reaching out to diverse social groups at every opportunity. We invited elderly people, who may have viewed tattooed people as societal outcasts, to see the artistry, meet tattoo wearers, and witness the community spirit surrounding modern tattooing. We also engaged with the media, providing ample content to create unbiased coverage. Every step towards our current acceptance filled us with joy", explains Marcin Pacześny, the mastermind and main organiser behind the Tattoo Konwent, and owner of a chain of tattoo parlours.

The inaugural Tattoo Konwent kicked off in Gdańsk in 2009, and has since spread to other major Polish cities, each edition outdoing the last in popularity. What is remarkable is that the event is not just drawing in tattoo lovers, but also folks who are new to the scene. The Konwent made its mark in Poznań in 2016, and according to Marcin Pacześny, it was an immediate smash hit. "Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate such a turnout! Poznań's first Tattoo Konwent attracted around 8,000 people. We immediately felt at home in this city realising how open its people were. This is why it is in Poznań that we kick off our festival tours every year", he adds.

The Konwent isn't just an opportunity to meet artists from all over Poland and beyond, but also a chance to observe their craft up close. This year, a stunning 450 artists will be in attendance! In the festival's central zone, there will be an enormous tattoo studio showcasing hundreds of designs and offering visitors to peek into the tattooing process. "It's a perfect place if you are considering getting inked for the first time", notes Matylda Jellinek, the Konwent's spokeswoman. She additionally suggests exploring the impressive exhibition area where hundreds of artists of various styles, from old to new schools, realism, minimalism, handpoke, watercolour, and linework, come together. Notable tattooists like Maggie Paletta, Aggie Vnek, Stefan Rusu, Michael Murolo, and Patryk Hilton, have already confirmed their presence.

"You can check out our exhibitor list on, reach out to your favourite artist, or choose from the free designs created by tattoo artists especially for the Poznań event, and get tattooed without a prior appointment", says Matylda Jellinek. Every Konwent edition hosts competitions, and this year is no exception: every participating artist will get a chance to present their work on the festival stage.

A professional jury, this year composed of Sergey Butenko, Igor Mitrenga, Richard Dan and Max Ghostar, will evaluate the works for creativity and execution precision. As many as 17 competitions have been scheduled for the Poznań edition, covering every category from black-and-grey to colourful tattoos, graphic tattoos, and anime-themed ink. A separate competition for the best tattoo on the theme of either Poznań or the Wielkopolska region will also be held.

However, there is more to the convention than tattoos alone. Its packed schedule goes far beyond tattoo-related events offering attractions ranging from concerts by Polish hip-hop stars, like the legendary O.S.T.R. and the young-generation artist Tymek. Reflecting this year's theme, "Tattoo and Body Festival", the artistic programme will feature events referring to body art in a broader sense, including a show by the Circus of Horror group, a performance by the world's strongest strongman, a shibari binding workshop, and presentations of facial yoga, kobido massage, and jewellery making. The audience may also enjoy a large arts and crafts zone. In addition, a Cosplay & Geek zone will feature thematic competitions, a food truck zone, and Tattoo-Con, a special industry training and seminar zone for tattoo artists.

As for the future of the convention, Marcin Pacześny assures that while the organisers keep an eye on global festivals, they have no intention of imitating anyone. "We are all about keeping up with the times, and sometimes going against the grain. We are experimenting and want the Tattoo Konwent to be Europe's biggest and most innovative event of its kind," he declares. With the event's growing size and scope, that dream might just come true. In the meantime, head over to the Poznań International Fair grounds and immerse yourself in this wild world to tattoos to appreciate their true importance in modern culture, and you might even walk out with that tattoo you've long been contemplating!

Sebastian Gabryel

translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski 

  • Poznań Tattoo Konwent 2024 - Tattoo and Body Festival
  • Poznań International Fair grounds, 23-24 March, tickets: PLN 60-180, passes: PLN 65-499

© Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania 2024