On Tattoos and Belonging: An Interview with Anni Rose

MARCH 20, 2020

Drunken “stick and pokes” in my sister’s bedroom apartment. Insignificant abrasions in non-toxic ink.
The smallest, most unobtrusive option chosen from the flash sheets at a fundraising event.
A memorial for a lost pet. To honour an association of home. To cover scars. To feel something. To declare myself a bitch.
Regaining lost territory. Reclaiming, covering, engraving.
In the buzz and stab of tiny needles, singing lullabies to exiled skin. Swollen, bloody, inky, mine.
Healing, scabbing, itching, mine.
Decorated, cherished, chosen, mine.
Piece by piece, belonging again to myself

Text and self-portraits: Anni Rose
Tattoos: Gabe David and Emerson Roach of Outlaw Country Tattoo

In an interview with Yiara Online, Concordia artist and Art Education student Anni Rose discusses their recent project, On Tattoos and Belonging. Coupling elegant self-portraiture and biting poetry, Rose reflects on the healing and empowering potential of self-representation. Rose explains that tattoo work, among other forms of art and creation, not only becomes a way of coming to terms with one’s identity, but also of building outwards to find meaningful community.

Amelle Margaron: On Tattoos and Belonging is a multimedia project that features both poetry and photography. Can you explain the process behind your work?

Anni Rose:  A lot of my work centres around self-portraiture. The easiest place for me to start is [with] myself, and that’s the area of the world that I understand most intimately. I’ve obviously gotten these tattoos over many years, but I did this series of self-portraits shortly after I moved here. I just woke up in the morning, with this feeling — [I was] noticing for the first time in a while that I was very at home in my body. I wanted to capture that, to explore this feeling. I played around in my room, taking photos. They weren’t necessarily about the tattoos [at first], but I realized that [the tattoos] were an important element, so I wanted to highlight them. And that’s when the writing came into it.

What inspires your tattoo choices?

[It’s] a mix of things. Some of them have been ideas I’ve had, a particular flower or idea that I’ve really wanted. Some have been flash pieces. One of my favourite pieces was something that an artist (from whom I’d gotten tattoos before) had posted on his Instagram Story. It was a piece that he’d done seven years ago! I responded [to the post], and I was the one who got it. That felt really, really special.

Is there a particular symbolism behind your tattoos?

They represent my journey, different people, different places, and the “building up” of who I am.

In your poetry, you evoke the pain of being tattooed. How is the physical aspect of getting inked relevant to your work and personhood?

[The pain] is one of the reasons why I’m so connected to getting tattoos. It’s so cathartic. I’ve struggled a lot with depression in my life, and what I noticed was that physical pain became a way to deal with [my] emotional pain. This has manifested in self-harm, which felt very negative. But understanding that with tattoos the pain isn’t necessarily negative –– that there are positive ways of experiencing pain –– felt healing.  It connected me to my body, and [to] the physical and emotional worlds that I was inhabiting.

How does getting tattooed allow you to reaffirm your sense of self?

It’s a triggering of the sympathetic nervous system, where you’re experiencing adrenaline [and] you’re experiencing a heightened awareness, which is just your body’s natural response to pain. As someone who dissociates a lot, it feels good to be present in the moment, and [to feel] something very physical that is uncomfortable, but not scary. It’s a way of experiencing that kind of fear or adrenaline in a safe place.

Have your tattoos allowed you to build any meaningful connections? 

In Halifax, there’s a pretty big tattoo community. I worked at a busy cafe for a while, [where] I’d see people, and they’d ask who did my tattoos. And then they’d be like, “oh yeah, I have a tattoo by [that artist] as well!” There was definitely this form of connection and this sense of community. It’s not just the tattoos; it’s the people giving me the tattoos that are special.

Art can be a way of defining yourself in a world that can feel depersonalizing or disempowering. Do you find that your work speaks to that structural immateriality?

Yeah. Maybe indirectly or more subtly, but that is something that is often on my mind. I do think [about] the boundaries between one person and another person, and the physical body and the mental side of a person, however you want to conceptualize that. And I feel this world is becoming a place [where] more and more people are disconnected. That border between people and their surroundings, there are so many more layers being added to [it], and I think that art is a way to explore those boundaries. To push up against them, and see how sturdy they are. And [to see] how much I need to push before they break. I like to think of my tattoos as the layer between [myself] and the world. There is this boundary, but it’s very thin, and you can see a lot of me through it.

Do you have any ideas for your next tattoo?

I actually do have one scheduled! With an artist in Montreal with whom I’ve been obsessed for a long time. Hillary Jane is their name, and I’m getting a jellyfish tattoo sometime in March. It’s aesthetically pleasing, [but] I also grew up by the ocean. It’s very much a part of who I am, and it reminds me more than anything else of what it means to be home. It feels very symbolic to be getting a tattoo of Nova Scotia when I don’t live there anymore.

You can find and follow Anni Rose’s work on their instagram account.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly uses Rose’s pronouns. We apologize for this error and have since corrected our mistake.

An undergraduate
feminist art & art history