I wear my art on my skin — it’s the ink of my heart

“Our bodies were printed as blank pages to be filled with the ink of our hearts” 
― 
Michael Biondi

“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” 
― 
Sylvia Plath

The study found that people who had three or more tattoos were likely to have low self-esteem.  “The findings of this study suggest that tattoos are not just fashion accessories but driven by a wide range of motivational factors that are significantly associated with self-esteem.”

Interestingly, Truman Capote agreed, “There’s something really the matter with most people who wear tattoos. There’s at least some terrible story. I know from experience that there’s always something terribly flawed about people who are tattooed, above some little something that Johnny had done in the Navy, even though that’s a bad sign…It’s terrible. Psychologically it’s crazy. Most people who are tattooed, it’s the sign of some feeling of inferiority, they’re trying to establish some macho identification for themselves.”

Reading these viewpoints, I wondered if I got my recent tattoos because my self-esteem was low.  Marie Randle, from Liverpool Hope University, who carried out the study mentioned above, added that “not everyone who had a tattoo had poor self-esteem.” I reflected back to when I got my other tattoos, more than 20 years ago, and while I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reasoning I believe the motivation was likely starkly different to my recent desire to ink my skin.

Other reasons people get tattoos include attention seeking, self-expression, artistic expression, rebellion, addiction, identification with a group, sentimental reasons or even impulsiveness.  In the past, tattooing was linked to psychological conditions and considered self mutilatory behaviour.

Was I seeking attention? I don’t think so. There are easier, cheaper and less painful ways to do that, right? I’m not trying to identify with a group, far from it. I am not recording any sentimental beliefs on my skin, it wasn’t an impulsive action.  I thought deliberately about them and took considerable time to discern the right size, image and placement. I shopped around for the right artist as well.

I was surprised to realise that I could see a leaning to self-mutilation but, again, there are other ways to do that too so, no, that wasn’t my motive. It might have been an act of defiance, for sure. The new tattoos are visible to the world. Part of me wants to stick it to the rules, the labels and the expectations of how I should show up in the world. I want to break free of repressiveness. To challenge expectations.

Johnny Depp said, “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.”  I guess, in some way, a story is unfolding.  My earlier tattoos were images I liked that symbolise freedom, joy and inner strength. The tattoo I got last year is a simple word that speaks for itself – free. It’s a reminder that I am now free to choose anything – but mostly to be fully and unapologetically me.  This year, to date, I have two more etchings. A Latin phrase that translates to “she flies with her own wings” on the inside of my right bicep and a small snake on my left foot a symbol of transformation. I thought I would get the Phoenix tattoo I have been considering for the last 14 months before ever getting a snake. So many snakes crossed my path in the last several months, whether real snakes, images of snakes, sculptures, paintings or stories of snakes. Snakes showed up in tarot readings and in oracle cards and messages from friends. There were so many occurrences that I simply couldn’t ignore that the universe was sending me a message. The message was to do with the power of snake medicine linked to transformation, life changes, healing and primal energy. Hence, I now wear a reminder that the universe has my back.

There are several other tattoos I am drawn to and will, over time, probably have them inked on my body.  They are symbols that signify who I am becoming and who I have always been at heart. My tattoos are a statement and a way to express myself though more than that, they are badges of honour. They are emblems of my strength and courage, of change and a time of moving forward, of breaking free, of creating a new identity.  These new tattoos have raised my confidence and are reminders to me of what I have been through and survived. They are reminders that I am strong, that I am brave, that I am a survivor and that I should be here in this world.  I may well be judged by my tattoos but, you know what? I don’t actually care, because my skin art, my ink, is a celebration of life and of me and I wear it proudly.

 

Stepping out on opening night

Every moment of one’s existence one is growing into more or retreating into less.         Norman Mailer

In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get into motion and grow. Lou Holtz

Julia Cameron talks of artists dates. This was a practice of mine some time ago and I fell off the wagon. Due to a recent change in circumstances I have felt isolated, alone and needing connection. I’ve identified activities and events to attend, I’ve flooded my calendar with them in fact but when the time arises I find it hard to get dressed and step out the door. It’s so much easier to stay at home and hide from the world.

Scrolling through social media I noticed a friend was interested in an event. Looking into it I discovered it was an opening of an indigenous art exhibition at a gallery I follow. I popped it in my calendar thinking it could be a nice opportunity to get out and be around people.

An hour before the event I was already seeing myself curled up on the couch with a book and cup of tea. I was making plenty of excuses not to go. Noticing this self-defeating pattern of behaviour I messaged my friend and asked if she was going. She was unwell. She did however encourage me by reminding me of the artist date concept. After a little delay I threw caution to the wind  (oh yes, risk taking needs to become a bigger part of my life from now on. Minimal as those risks might be in the short-term) and got dressed (yep, big decisions here too. Could easily have derailed the whole thing right in the wardrobe. To cut the crap and the debate in my head I selected a simple dress and sandals. No fuss – simple and easy) and headed out.

A lightness instantly descended upon me, or is that the heaviness lifted? Either works and perhaps are synchronistically synonymous in this instance.  Parking a short distance away and walking toward the gallery, passing Friday night revellers I felt a freedom and a confidence in having made the decision to step out of the house, out of my funk and into life. Choosing action over inaction and movement instead of ‘stuckness’ felt great.

The exhibition was intimate. The works pure and innocent with captivating colours and symbolism. Compared to other crowded opening nights it was an event attended by a small number of art enthusiasts passionate about indigenous art. I wasn’t exactly surrounded by people and I didn’t connect in any overt way with anyone but it was nice to share the space and see the appreciation for the works in the demeanour of others. It was a shared experience.

My excursion wasn’t a long one but gosh it was liberating. Some readers may think that odd because going out on a Friday night is such a normal thing to do and going to a gallery opening isn’t exactly skydiving. When the fabric of your life has been slashed and your self-esteem and sense of self-worth have been demolished by the cruel acts of another and tragic circumstances it’s hard to stand up straight let alone step out into the light.

I know this is just a small step to recovering and rediscovering life. I am looking forward to many more opening nights and opening myself to new and exciting opportunities.

 

A year of inspiration: inspired by my friend Catherine and the need to step out and into the light and explore life from a new perspective.