War Ink: Sense-making and curating war through military tattoos

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Abstract

Veterans have long sought to make sense of and capture their wartime experiences through a variety of aesthetic means such as novels, memoirs, films, poetry, and art. Increasingly, scholars of international relations (IR) are turning to these sources as a means to study war experience. In this article, we analyze one such sense-making practice that has, despite its long association with war, largely gone unnoticed: the military tattoo. We argue that military tattoos and the experiences they capture can offer a novel entry point into understanding how wars are made sense of and captured on the body. Focusing on a web archive-War Ink-curated and collected for, and by, US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, we analyze how tattoos perform an important "sense-making" function for participating veterans. We focus on three recurring themes-loss and grief, guilt and anger, and transformation and hope-and demonstrate how military tattoos offer important insights into how military and wartime experience is traced and narrated on and through the body. The web archive, however, not only enables a space for veterans to make sense of their war experience through their tattoos, it also does important political work in curating the broader meaning of war to the wider public.

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APA

Dyvik, S. L., & Welland, J. (2018). War Ink: Sense-making and curating war through military tattoos. International Political Sociology, 12(4), 346–361. https://doi.org/10.1093/IPS/OLY018

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