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

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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.




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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