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Save Your Own Skin

Most of the things that a person will pass down to their loved ones upon their death are pretty standard — real estate, money, family heirlooms, etc. — but a tattoo artist from the Netherlands wants people to include their tattoos in their inheritances. Peter van der Helm, the owner of Walls and Skin in Amsterdam, has launched a program aimed at convincing people to have their tattoos preserved after death with the hopes of creating an exhibition of the artwork.

“We as tattoo artists, enthusiasts, and lovers all have our tattoos done with special meaning and purpose,” van der Helm said. “Not all of them might be good to use in our service and some of them you might definitely want to take to your grave but others can be an inspiration for people in the tattoo world and around you like friends and family who couldn’t understand the tattoos while you were around.”

The process used to preserve tattoos has been in existence for some time but was never widely popular. After a person’s death the skin is removed and through a process that takes roughly 12 weeks the water within the skin is replaced with silicone. The finished product is not all that different from a painted canvas. Tattoo art has advanced greatly since tattoo preservation first occurred and van der Helm wants to show off the work of modern artists.

“The technique (used to preserve the skin) is actually 50 or 60 years old,” van der Helm explained. “There is some skin with tattoos on it and they still look like they did on the day the person died. They might not be the best works of art since they were done years ago but I’m hoping to get some great work from the sublime artists we have this day.”

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From the minute he undertook the project van der Helm understood that it was going to take years before the planned exposition could come together. Since people can’t just hand over their tattoo van der Helm has not been able to preserve any tattoos yet. Right now the shop is in the process of getting people to agree to change their wills so that in their death they will donate their skin to the project, an idea that people have embraced.

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing yet,” van der Helm said. “Some people find it creepy but they are usually the ones without tattoos. Of course, I invite them to come over and change that before we go further in any conversation. Others are extremely enthusiastic and want to sign up immediately. We know that we work with the best of intentions.”

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Many years, and scores of tattoos, in the future van der Helm plans on having his own skin preserved so that others can appreciate his work for years to come.

“I’ve got some space reserved for Victor Chil, Victor Portugal, Nikko Hurtado and Kat von D of I can persuade them to tattoo me this lifetime,” van der Helm said. “I am most definitely going to preserve them to show what great artists our time has brought forward with this ancient technique of tattooing. And of course I’ll preserve the tattoo of my newborn. I’m hoping that he might step in his father’s footsteps to not only tell the world but show them how his dad liked to stir things up.”