David Allen: Mastectomy Tattoos and Post-Surgery Healing

August 31, 2018 – January 20, 2019

View the online exhibition here

Opening Reception: Friday, August 31, 2018, 5:30 – 8:00pm. Free and open to the public.

Since 2010, David Allen has been tattooing women who have undergone mastectomies. Typically recreating the nipple shape, mastectomy tattoos have been around for some time. David’s work, however, uses design principles to draw attention away from the scarring. This process has quickly become a new, viable option to help women take back control. For him and his clients, the tattoo station has become a place of listening, caring, and approaching an area of trauma for revitalization.

Taking on a handful of clients a month, Allen’s screening process is incredibly thorough. He states that he spends more time talking with the women than working on them. Since Allen recognizes the tattoo procedure as a healing process, it’s important to sense that a client is ready to begin that process. While the tattoo work itself is individually-focused and highly technical, Allen claims that the tattoo for him is of less importance than the sharing of trauma, stories, emotions and the demonstrations of empathy.

David Allen’s work has expanded into a number of arenas, including working with plastic surgeons pre-surgery to create a better surface for women who want a tattoo after the procedure, teaching the trade to other tattoo artists, and even sharing his story with medical professionals. Because of Allen’s commitment to placing his focus on empathy, he has been asked to speak at a number of medical conferences on the client and tattooer relationship. The way in which Allen’s work is discussed in the medical field is participatory in expanding ideas on the healing process and the dynamic role of practitioner.

Learn more about David Allen‘s work through JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association and the Chicago Tribune.

This exhibition is presented as part of the IMSS Contemporary Arts Program. IMSS supports a commitment to contemporary art and artists through exhibitions and programs that use the frame of contemporary artistic practice to examine new perspectives in surgical science and our relationship to the body.


This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.