Historical Finds: Soviet Gulag Prison Tattoos

Russian Gulaggulag

Think you could get ink like this in Cambridge?

The Soviet Gulag was an expansive system of imprisonment, as “undesirables” were removed from society through prisons, camps, and remote exile. Yet a new culture emerged from this alienation, captured here in almost 3,000 drawings of prison tattoos captured by a prison guard in the middle of the 20th century. These tattoos identified a prisoner’s status, their time spent in the system and where they had been imprisoned, their reason for imprisonment, and also used just for decoration and political statements. And through these images, we can see the prisoners of the gulag system through a humanized lens (after all, most of them are incredibly amusing).

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