extInked Project

extInked is a participatory arts and ecology project launched in November 2009, in collaboration with Anatomy Projects and tattoo artists, Ink Vs Steel.

In the year in which the world celebrated Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, Ultimate Holding Company embarked on a once in a lifetime social experiment. With the support of leading conservation organisations, one hundred rare and endangered British species were identified and studied, before being delicately illustrated in pen and ink by Jai Redman.

These drawings were then displayed for one month at an open exhibition in a disused railway arch in Salford, the public were invited to nominate themselves to become an ambassador for one of the species. Out of five hundred applications, one hundred volunteers were selected and tattooed with their species over a special three day event. The result of this unique performance was an army of ambassadors for threatened birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, mammals, plants and fungi.

The project raised a total of £3000 for the conservation partners and helped to promote education about changing ecologies and species loss. All of the one hundred ambassadors had a unique and life changing encounter with contemporary art and the project has remained live since the initial launch with the focus of activity shifting towards the ambassadors.

extInked Reunion

In the summer of 2010, UHC partnered with Castlefield Gallery to host the first extInked reunion, this was an opportunity for the extInked ambassadors to come together and share stories, ideas and support for the project and for their individual activities and efforts. UHC plan to host an annual reunion for the one hundred ambassadors.

Comments about projects

extInked was selected as one of the RSA's arts and ecology project highlights of 2009!

09/03/2009 - Sam Sutton - What 'extInked', 'This is Camp X-ray', and their other projects have in common is that they take causes that might fail to register through a conventional campaign and present them in ways that are more thought-provoking and memorable. Promoting something through an exhibition or an installation puts the audience inside the ideas, making them stop and think in a way a leaflet or a placard might not.

27/11/2009 - Hugh Warwick - The extInked project: Weird, Wonderful and Unique - just like those endangered species.

02/12/2009 - Grace Beaumont - The extInked project dreamt up by Ultimate Holding Company to mark Charles Darwin's bicentennial birthday is no doubt one of the most unique and amazing projects I've heard about in a long time.

05/12/2009 - Zoe Zammit-Lucia - Not only was this a bold and highly ambitious undertaking but some may be surprised by the large number of volunteers who demonstrated a passion for conserving the biodiversity of their country. For many, the extinction of species and the inexorable destruction of biodiversity are abstract concepts of little relevance in their everyday lives. This successful experiment shows that there are many who care about this issue with a lifelong passion.

01/02/2011 - Elizabeth Allen - One wonders what Darwin would have made of this army of inked ambassadors. He might not have been so surprised: the tattoo had its heyday in the late 1800s, when 90 percent of the British navy had been inked. In the iconography of tattoos, Darwin would have qualified for a turtle, the symbol of an equatorial crossing.

22/09/2011 - Dr Ben Darvill, BBCT Chief Executive Officer - At a time of alarming biodiversity loss and unprecedented climate change it is more important than ever that innovative approaches are used to engage with people and reconnect them to their natural environment. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust wish extInked well in their work raising environmental awareness.

Partner Organisations & Support

The extInked project was presented in proud association with The Marine Conservation Society, Buglife (The Invertebrate Conservation Trust), The People's Trust for Endangered Species, Anatomy Projects and Leeds based tattoo artists Ink Vs Steel.


The project was supported by Arts Council England grants for the arts, MIRIAD, generous public subscriptions and was held without commercial sponsorship.