Memorial tattoos being displayed in public gallery

Cory Hurley
Published on March 27, 2014
Psychology professors at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University, Jennifer Buckle, left, and Sonya Corbin Dwyer are studying memorial tattoos.
Star photo by Geraldine Brophy

A pair of psychology professors at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University are hoping to bring the public closer to remembering lost loved ones through tattoos.

Tattooing has become an increasingly popular personal act of remembrance after the death of a loved one, according to Jennifer Buckle and Sonya Corbin Dwyer.

Corbin Dwyer has an interest in tattoos, while Buckle does work in the field of death and dying. A collaboration was formed.

The qualitative research study searched for an understanding of a person’s experience in relation to their memorial tattoo — in remembrance of a loved one.

They searched for participants to interview about their choice to get one and its meaning and purpose for them.

“One of the core themes coming across form participants is the meaningfulness of these tattoos — that they were very powerful, they were very personal,” Buckle said. “For some individuals, it represented the grief experience itself and the loss of that significant loved one. For others, it represented the lost loved one, him or herself, and characteristics of that loved one. Then, for others, it was an integration of the two.”

They also had their tattoo photographed by Dean Peckford, and 25 of those images now make up an exhibit “It just brings me closer”: Reflections on Memorial Tattoos.

Many academic studies are published in academic journals and presented at academic conferences. Often there is no avenue for the public to hear about it or see it.

“We want as many people as possible to be able to see it,” Corbin Dwyer said. “For me, the exhibit is a very important piece. We will be writing papers, but I think people will also see the themes themselves and read things into it themselves.

“They won’t know who has it or who it is for, but the image is still very powerful.”

As much as the reasons for getting tattoos varied, so did the actual choice of artwork. People have messages, portraits, symbols and other meaningful things depicted on their bodies.

The visual narrative component of the study will be displayed at Picture it in a Frame in the Valley Mall for a month starting Friday. The opening reception will be from 7-9 p.m.