Six Tattoos, Six Stories from the ROM’s Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art. Exhibit

The stories behind the ink

There are as many reasons for getting a tattoo as there are tattoos in the world. Some of those reasons are simple—it looked cool, it was a bet or a dare. the list goes on. Some reasons though are infinitely complex, even if the tattooed can summed up in a single, simple sentence. Just like a picture is the symbol of a thing and not the the thing itself, a tattoo is obviously symbolic, though what the symbol might represent is as intricate as the person who commissioned it, as complicated as human nature, thoughts or decision making can get. Just like a picture, a tattoo can be worth a thousand words or more.

The Royal Ontario Museum’s new Tattoo: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art. exhibit does a spectacular job of explaining this concept, delving into themes across art, cultures, ages, and geography to get under the skin of the idea and try to uncover the mysteries of Tattoos, while simultaneously letting those immersed in the pieces be mystified by the art itself. After all, art of any kind is so rarely easily explained away, and the extra personal dimension of tattoos only tangles our understanding more.

We thought it might be fun to try to get to the bottom of things straight-up, so we asked a six tattooed people at the media showing of the new exhibit to tell us the stories behind their ink. Some explain their tattoo simply, and others had lots to say, not only about their specific tattoo but its farther-reaching significance as an art form. Here they are.

Monica Man

What do you do?
“I’m from California, and work at a company mostly developing social media and culture. Surfing culture branching into lifestyle culture.”

What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?
“It was an addition from a six-year journey of a tattoo. So it’s kinda like my last seven tattoos for now. It’s an Oni, a Japanese demon, but protection also, and in the form of a samurai mask. The eyes are from flowers, more of an add-on, and then from there it was from a story. I was born the year of the dragon, and my Chinese name is Phoenix. So in Japanese mythology—I have kois on my body too, and if a koi leads a good life it can transform into a dragon. If the dragon does good deeds, it gets given wings to become a phoenix. So throughout my body I have that story. Basically tattooing for me is like a moving canvas, kind of complements the body, and on top of that, tells a story.”


Diandra Urech

What do you do?
“I am Community Manager for Inkbox Tattoos.”

What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?
“My tattoo’s a stick ’n’ poke. It just came about. I was with my cousin and she had gotten all the ink and the needles and stuff for it, and I was kinda bored and I’d always wanted a tattoo. She just asked, ‘hey, would you let me tattoo you?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah why not? Let’s do it right now.’ I wanted a sunflower, because sunflowers are my favourite flower. We got started, and she kinda outlined it a little bit. First of all, the sound of stick ’n’ pokes are so gross, especially when you’re so close [to it]. It’s all these individual little… *makes piercing noises* like you can hear it piercing the skin. It’s right here. It’s supposed to be a sunflower but it looks more like a daisy, or a weed. It’s fun. And I don’t wanna get rid of it because she did it.”/blockquote>



Yuli Scheiet

What do you do?
“I’m a photographer and designer. I run my own studio here in Toronto.”

What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?
“The tattoo is a mountain range in Alberta named Three Sisters, where I’m from. I got it in October in New York with a friend of mine who I grew up with in Alberta. Like, a sisterhood [tattoo]. The range is called Three Sisters, so I got it with someone I’ve been friends with my whole life, and maybe one day we’ll find a third sister together.”



Matthew Ellis

What do you do?
“I tattoo.”

What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?
“One of my oldest ones is a snake and an apple. It’s about temptation, and a reminder to steer clear of some of them.”



Alicia Guilbeault

What do you do?
“I work here, and at a Krav Maga martial arts gym.”

What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?
“It’s ‘sister’ in French. My sister and I went and got matching tattoos. She’s actually working here right now! I took her to get her first tattoo and it was that one. It’s most memorable to me because she’s my sister and we have matching tattoos together. It was also a really hilarious experience for me because it was her first time, and just watching her reaction and taking photos of her shrieking in pain was funny to me.”



Louise Schiffmacher

What do you do?
“I’m the wife of Hanky Panky—Hank Schiffmacher—and we have some stuff in this museum. He’s an internationally known tattoo artist and I am also a tattoo artist, so this is our life!”

What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?
“It’s a Berber tattoo. A North African tattoo. I took this tattoo in the first place because I conquered a very hard time in my life. I was struggling with cancer. I survived, and I wanted to have something really powerful to remind me everyday of that survival. I also took it because it’s a vanishing form of art. It’s like a Muslim tattoo, but it’s not Muslim, it’s a Berber, so it’s a tribal tattoo. It’s actually to chase away the demons, to honour Mother Earth, and basically when they come to our countries, to Europe because they’re free from financial struggle or whatever, and they try to find a better life in Europe, they get sent to an Imam, which probably comes from another country from Pakistan or Afghanistan and they prohibit these kind of tattoos. So we try to save those images. That’s basically what Hank and I do. We try to revive tattoos that are currently vanishing. So I thought it was a great thing to do to show off. Like if I go to the market in Amsterdam and there are Muslim people, a lot of Moroccan people, North African people, they’re always pleasantly shocked to see my tattoo, like, ‘oh, my great grandma, my great aunt, she had the same tattoos.’”



Indie88 is a proud partner of the ROM’s latest exhibit, Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art running now till September 5, 2016.