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Inked: Exploring the stories behind student tattoos

Katherine Hui / Thresher

By Sarah Knowlton     1/10/23 10:16pm

The letter ‘Oht,’ a runic character and video game logo, is emblazoned on Felicity Phelan’s inner wrist. It was their first tattoo, Phelan said.

“‘Oblivion’ was the first ‘real’ video game I ever played, and the ‘Elder Scrolls’ series is one of my favorites,” Phelan said. “In the game, there are these portals you go through, and the logo is the shape of one of those portals. Since ‘Oblivion’ was my first video game, I think of it as my ‘portal’ into the world of video games and thought it was fitting for a first tattoo.”

Katherine Hui / Thresher

Phelan is host to many more tattoos, each with their own individual story. A Tang Dynasty poem etched into Phelan’s thigh was inspired by their Chinese heritage, which they said they wanted to pay tribute to with their designs.

“My Chinese name is ”, which means peach blossom, and the tattoo is a sort of sad love poem I like that talks about peach blossoms. I wanted to get something related to my Chinese identity,” Phelan, a Duncan College freshman, said.

Katherine Hui / Thresher

Keeping in line with the symbol of blossoms, Phelan said their tattoo of an orange blossom branch on their forearm is also linked to their heritage.

“I chose oranges because I love citrus smells in perfume and because in Chinese culture, oranges are associated with success and good fortune,” Phelan said.

Another piece, a bust of Medusa, also bears a personal connection.

“Medusa is a really popular tattoo subject, but I’d always found tattoo depictions of her to be very male gaze-y and felt they had too much focus on making her look attractive and seductive, which didn’t match my understanding of the myth as a really tragic story of injustice and feminist rage,” Phelan said. “I was interested in getting a Medusa tattoo that aligned more with my understanding of her story and was especially interested in working with a female artist.”

Katherine Hui / Thresher

Irene Wang said her tattoo, a carton of pixelated peach milk, was inspired by the designs of tattoo artist Rachelle Viola.

“There isn’t any significant meaning behind it, all I knew was that I wanted to get a tattoo that was in more of a ‘cuter’ style,” Wang, a Baker College sophomore, said. “This was my first tattoo, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

Spontaneity over significance seems to be a common thread among many inked students on campus. Angie Fan, a McMurtry College senior, said her tattoo of a woman’s figure adorned with mushrooms was also an act of impulse.

“I was visiting a friend in Madrid, and we were wandering the city when she spotted a tattoo shop,” Fan said. “We made the impulse decision to book appointments together for that afternoon … there isn’t really a deeper meaning to it, but in the end, my tattoo reminds me of friendship and spontaneity for the sake of art.”

Katherine Hui / Thresher

Ynez Kerley, a McMurtry senior, also said she associates her design with friendship, as her tattoo artist was a close friend of hers.

“My tattoo is an abstract handpoke design that I got last July while interning in New York City. The artist is my friend Joyce, who goes by @texturemapping_ on Instagram,” Kerley said. “I always admired their designs and thought a tattoo from them would be a lovely souvenir of my summers in the city.”

Kerley said she opted for an abstract tattoo because of the variety of ways people can interpret the design.

“I chose a design that I thought would blend naturally with my body over time and remind me of the shooting star I saw once on [the artist’s] rooftop,” Kerley said. “I like that everyone who sees it interprets it differently — like a nebula, strands of DNA or a shooting star.”

Katherine Hui / Thresher

Other students take less spontaneous approaches to their designs. Drawing upon personal experiences and identity, Angelina Hall said that her tattoos are always thought out in advance.

Katherine Hui / Thresher

“My inspirations are always my family or my identity. Most of my tattoos are ones I thought about months in advance, and I’d make small edits or changes to the idea or design before finally deciding to go in and get them,” Hall, a Brown College junior, said.

Hall has several tattoos inspired by the poetry of Maya Angelou, as well as a halo and wings that she shares with her mother. She also has the phrases carpe noctem (seize the night) and ohana mau loa (eternal family).

Katherine Hui / Thresher

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