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Older people with tattoos? INK to make you think...

Projects challenges assumptions about body art and older people as part of Bealtaine creativity and ageing festival.

THE BEALTAINE FESTIVAL which runs across the country throughout the month of May celebrates creativity in ageing. One of the very diverse projects is photographer Aidan Kelly’s exhibition on older people with tattoos, called INK.

Dublin-based artist Kelly was commissioned by Bealtaine to begin the project in 2010 and has added to his record every year since then. He describes it as a “celebration of each individual”. The project description on Bealtaine.com has a succinct take on what tattoos mean to those inscribed with them:

Tattoos can be a sign of belonging or rebellion; they can commemorate someone dear or be an expression; they can be signs of service, servitude or even imprisonment. Gently revealing, they are lasting reminders of time and place. Deliberate ink engraved into skin for a lifetime.

Some of the stories of the INK participants are recorded here. The exhibitions – running now at the Axis Centre in Ballymun, Dublin until 10 May; and at the Old Markethouse Arts Centre in Dungarvan, Waterford from 11 May-27 June – are free. There is a workshop in the Dungarvan centre on Wednesday, 23 May which is also free but places should be booked. In this workshop, Kelly invites older people to attend and they will have the opportunity to tell the story of their tattoo and have it photographed for possible inclusion in the next phase of the exhibition.

Here are some of the new photographs and stories included in this year’s exhibition: (All images © Aidan Kelly)

Older people with tattoos? INK to make you think...
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  • INK - Adrian Doyle

    Doyle, from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, is a member of the Defence Forces and has an impressive collection of tattoos. "In the course of the photoshoot Adrian mentioned his collection of books on a subject matter that fascinates him, serial killers. In a flash he bared his back to reveal the faces of some of the most infamous personalities in history".
  • INK - Kathleen Hogg

    Kathleen works at the South Tipperary County Museum. "When she turned 50 it struck her that if she didn't do things she wanted to do by that time she'd never get them done. One of those long-standing ambitions was to get a small tattoo on her wrist. A small something she could see for herself, her own personal marking that made her happy." The tattoo was a gift from her daughter for Kathleen's 50th birthday.
  • INK - Jackie O'Dwyer

    Jackie's tattoos reflect his years working long days in London and other UK cities as a builder and in other jobs, his allegiance to Manchester United, his classic roses and garland tattoo to his mother and father. "Jackie's story of emigration, love for family and passion for football summed up how INK demonstrates the universal concerns and individual trials experienced by each participant."
  • INK - Mags and Gay Nolan

    Mags, from Ringsend, Dublin, had her husband Gay's name tattooed onto the top of her arm - and he had hers put on his. "While celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary by way of a walk to and from Bray Head, they decided after finding their train delayed, to visit a local tattoo shop just up from the train station. To kill some time, they asked each other; 'Why not get a tattoo whilst we're waiting?' In turn, they replied, 'If you will, I will'." So they did.

Aidan Kelly blogs here and has work displayed here.

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