The Tattoo Project launched in Orangeville

January 26, 2017   ·   0 Comments

The old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ has perhaps never been more appropriate than when it’s used to describe memorial and commemorative tattoos.

That saying certainly rings true for local resident Deborah Davidson, an academic scholar that teaches at York University in Toronto. A sociologist at heart, Mrs. Davidson has opened her mind to another passion she’s developed in recent years – the study of tattoos.

Traditionally regarded as somewhat taboo, tattoos have always carried with them a certain stigma, something Mrs. Davidson touches on heavily in her new book The Tattoo Project. Published by the Canadian Scholars Press and officially released in December of 2016, the book was featured in a special ‘R U Inked’ launch party at Booklore in Orangeville last week, with dozens of local residents in attendance.

The book is composed of original writings from a multi-disciplinary group of academics and examines the process of building a community-contributed digital archive of commemorative tattoos. It also discusses the social meanings and implications of commemorative tattoos, disrupting commonly held notions about who gets tattooed and why. Several Orangeville and Dufferin County residents’ stories and artwork is featured in the publication.

“I’m very happy with how this book turned out – one of the things I’d like to reiterate is that it isn’t just for academic audiences, it’s for anyone that might be interested in tattoos and commemoration,” Mrs. Davidson told the Citizen. “It hits on some heavy topics, such as personal loss and tragedy. It features the thoughts and emotions of real people. It’s an empowering, yet friendly and comfortable read.”

And while The Tattoo Project is such an important part of Mrs. Davidson’s life today, it almost never came to pass.

“Like a lot of people, I held stereotypical notions about tattooed people – what they do, why they get tattoos – but I changed my mind very quickly following a personal encounter in the late 2000s,” Mrs. Davidson said.

During that time, Mrs. Davidson was regularly volunteering with Bereaved Families of Ontario – an organization that provides compassionate non-denominational mutual aid support for families and individuals who have lost a significant person to death. Through this work, Deborah said she “instantly realized” the power of tattoos.

“I’ve found I was actually quite ignorant to tattoos in the past and didn’t realize fully what they meant to people,” Mrs. Davidson said. “While volunteering I noticed people that I didn’t think would have tattoos proudly sported memorial tattoos in honour of their family members that had deceased, so I started changing and disrupting my ideas about who gets tattoos and why.”

The idea of a memorial tattoo really hit home with Deborah, who went through a traumatic experience in the late 1970s when her newborn twins died shortly after childbirth. While she has long since come to terms with the loss, Mrs. Davidson was able to honour her “little babies” with a commemorative tattoo of her own. That symbol, which has since been surrounded by numerous other images dedicated to Deborah’s husband, parents and other children, has served to solidify what has become a “special relationship” that Mrs. Davidson has with tattoos.

The icing on the cake came when Deborah commissioned local tattooist Keith Winterbottom, of Citrus City Tattoo Shop, to design a tattoo in honour of The Tattoo Project. The piece, which features an elephant with its trunk raised in the air, captures the mood and general feeling perfectly, according to Deborah.

“Empathy. That’s the first thing I think of whenever I see the tattoo,” Mrs. Davidson said. “I love what Keith produced. The detail he put into the elephant’s face. It perfectly represents everything I say in the book. It’s a fitting image to serve as the logo for The Tattoo Project.”


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