Ötzi’s tattoos by Nicole Wilson


Art Performance: Ötzi’s Tattoos by Nicole Wilson


The American artist Nicole (Cole) Wilson had all of the Iceman’s tattoos retouched on her own body as an art performance.

It is likely that Ötzi scratched 61 lines into his skin with flint and then rubbed soot into the marks. Interestingly, these lines lie on the body meridians that are still used to treat pain with acupuncture today. Archaeological and medical research therefore assumes that Ötzi did not receive these tattoos as decoration, but to treat pain in his joints and spine. This treatment is consequently considered the oldest known use of tattooing for therapeutic purposes in the world.

Wilson has been fascinated with Ötzi since her school days and sought a way to create a connection between herself and the 5,000-year-old man’s story. That is how the idea to replicate Ötzi’s markings on her own body blossomed: In December 2016 she had all 61 symbols tattooed to scale on her skin using her own blood. Wilson sees this as a living connection between Ötzi’s story and herself: “It’s interesting to live with marks on your body. You look down when you’re getting dressed, and are reminded of what you did and that connection that you’re trying to make. For years, I was thinking a lot about who I am and my relationship with history.” As the scars began to fade away, she almost regretted it, saying, “It was a little sad for them to disappear completely.”

Cole Wilson’s tattoo project was photographed over the course of four years and documented her body’s reaction to the tattoos, from bloodred lines in the beginning until they only remained as a faint memory on her skin at the end.

After stopping in Brooklyn and Los Angeles in the USA, photographs documenting the project will be available for viewing in Europe at Three Kings Tattoos in London from June 10 to July 11, 2022.


Photos: TJ Proechel

Wilson’s Website
Interview with the artist about the project

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