During her time in Tulsa, Tamara will begin an ongoing oral history initiative that works with covering or re-working tattoos on individuals exiting the prison system. "Shapeshifting: towards being seen" opens on September 6th, 2019. The exhibition will include documentation of the tattoos both before and after, as well as a recorded oral history component with a focus on investigating how experiences with incarceration shift perspectives on tattoos.
Tattooing becoming mainstream in recent years has relied heavily on distancing itself from stereotypical associations with criminality. The last people to benefit from this mainstreaming are those who do have a history of incarceration or have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Tattoos that are gang related or that are perceived by others as poor quality can be a barrier to employment and other systematic and social engagement. By researching this site of overlap, I hope to push back against the respectability politics present in the tattoo industry and to address the stigma of tattoos (most often wrongfully) characterized as “criminal.”
Through partnering with Ritual and reentry services organizations local to the area, I hope to collect narratives and visuals that create a more complete and nuanced picture of tattooing’s potential for personal empowerment, centering the experiences of the formerly incarcerated. In relation to carceral spaces specifically, this might mean tattooing being a vehicle to assert an authority over one’s body that cannot be taken away by the state, having a memento that maintains a connective thread to a life outside prison walls, or being able to maintain a sense of individuality in an environment that aims to strip that away.
Thanks to the generous support of Ritual Electric Tattoos, Tulsa Artist Fellowship, and Resonance Tulsa.