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Veterans share personal stories in intimate new exhibition

Kim Treasure
Man getting tattooed on his back.

Ink in the Lines is an exhibition about tattoos in the military on now at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Bob McKendry.

An innovative new exhibition that examines military tattoos has opened at the Australian War Memorial.

Ink in the Lines relates personal stories and experiences of Australian veterans through the use of tattoos, and features more than 70 portraits.

It details the experiences of 21 Australian servicemen and servicewomen and is thought to be the first exhibition in Australia to examine the use of tattoos in the military.

Throughout 2019, Australian War Memorial photographic curator Stephanie Boyle, photographer Bob McKendry and videographer Stephen Toaldo captured oral history interviews and portrait photography documenting the stories of servicemen and servicewomen and their tattoos. Many of the images and stories that were collected form part of Ink in the Lines.

A diverse range of people feature in the exhibition but a common unifying purpose for getting inked emerges: to remember.

Veteran displaying "we will remember them" tattoo on forearm.

Veterans’ identities are sometimes inscribed on their skin with tattoos. Photo: Bob McKendry.

Ms Boyle said the veterans’ identities were inscribed on their skin, covering the commemoration of loss; experiences of trauma and overcoming adversity; the bonds of family and friends; and acknowledging the experiences that define who they are.

“I hope this exhibition helps visitors engage with Australian military in a way they probably haven’t before, and see that everyone has an important story to tell and that some stories can be written on skin,” she said.

“The service people we met making this project told stories that are funny, sad, tragic and, above all, human. We continue to be touched and grateful for their honesty and generosity in sharing their stories.”

Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson described Ink in the Lines as a contemporary exhibition showcasing Australia’s modern veterans and their families who, through their tattoos, commemorate the people, events and experiences that shape their lives.

“The experiences of present-day veterans, and their loved ones, are unique and often intensely private,” he said.

Veteran displaying military tattoo on arm.

There’s nothing more personal than a tattoo. Photo: Bob McKendry.

“There is no more personal way to preserve a memory of an event than to have it tattooed on one’s skin. I would like to thank the veterans who participated in the exhibition for offering their stories. Through their tattoos and their stories, they continue to serve as a reminder of the service and sacrifice we all too often take for granted.”


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Ink in the Lines is on display in the special exhibitions gallery at the Australian War Memorial until 27 January, 2021. To see it, visitors can book a Galleries and Commemorative Area ticket through the Memorial’s website, which includes access to Ink in the Lines and the 2020 Napier Waller Art Prize.

Original Article published by Kim Treasure on The RiotACT.

This entry was posted in Art & Culture, Community and tagged Australian war memorial, Bob McKendry, Ink in the Lines, Matt Anderson, Napier Waller Art Prize, Stephanie Boyle, Stephen Toaldo, tattoos.

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