Upon the start of the Civil War, it became commonplace for U.S. military members to tattoo themselves with symbols paying homage to their profession. Whether it was a flag, battle date or an anchor, these markings helped soldiers express social solidarity with one another.
Though tattooing became a taboo in civilian life shortly after the end of World War I, its significance remained a cornerstone of military life.
For today’s veteran, tattoos tell a story of their experiences. This is the message Kimberly Bloodgood, Director of the Office for Veterans and Military Personnel at IUPUI, aims to spread.
Bloodgood, an Air Force veteran, will be directing an exhibition that showcases photos and stories of IUPUI veterans and their tattoos. Student writers and photographers from IUPUI will be involved in photographing the veterans and writing about the meaning they hold.
“We want this to be a student-centric experience,” said Bloodgood. “I’d like this to be a learning experience for student writers and photographers, as well as an experience to learn about the military student.”
Bloodgood was inspired by a similar exhibition directed by Paul Richard, vice president of Veterans in Industries and Arts. Richard, an Army veteran who served during Vietnam, created The Things They Brought Home: Military Tattoos which premiered at the Indianapolis Arts Center during Veterans Month last November through the end of January.
The original showcase told the stories of veterans around Indiana. When Richard introduced the idea to Bloodgood, they came up with the idea of creating an exhibition centered on the veterans of IUPUI’s faculty, staff and student body.
On the IUPUI campus alone, there are currently 1,100 veteran students, as well as 300 veteran members of faculty and staff.
According to Richard, emphasis will be placed on keeping the showcase diverse. The idea of the exhibition is to provide a full understanding of the realities present in the veteran community.
“I’d like to get a real cross-section of race, ethnicity and gender that we can show at the school,” Richard explained, “This will give IUPUI a better understanding of veteran service. It gives veterans the opportunity to be honored.”
Bloodgood hopes that this exhibit will educate IUPUI students about the lives of their fellow peers and instructors who have served.
“It’s about education for the students,” said Bloodgood, “Whether they’re taking pictures and writing or just seeing the photos and reading their stories, it’s all about educating.”
Bloodgood also believes that the process of telling their stories will serve as a form of healing for the veterans involved.
“One side is about education for the students, but the other is to help the military veteran student,” Bloodgood explained.
In the future, Bloodgood hopes to see this style of exhibition presented at other schools.
“This is different, it’s not a typical type of photograph. I’m hoping that this idea spreads and goes further.”
Though the date of the premiere is yet to be decided, it is expected to be completed in the fall. The showcase will be located in IUPUI’s Cultural Arts galley in the campus center. As of now, Bloodgood is focused on recruiting IUPUI student photographers and writers to take part in the project.
“This is a way for the military veteran to tell their story,” said Bloodgood, “When you share your story, it becomes an easier way to get to a happy place.”