Expression Is an Art Form – Some BHSEC Faculty Adorn Theirs on Their Body

Marufa Kasham, ‘19

Tattoos are not a rarity these days. Most people often get theirs before they hit adulthood. Tattoos have not always been as easy to get as they currently are. In fact, until 1997, tattoos were banned in New York, after a hepatitis B outbreak. People were having tattoos done through in-apartment covert parlours even during this period where tattoos were outlawed. To add to the stigma, there has been a long debate on how appropriate they are for the work environment.

But tattoos are art – a way of expression in a permanent way. BHSEC is a so-called place to think, so it is only fair that everyone expresses themselves accordingly. To examine the place of tattoos in a work environment and destigmatize them, we interviewed two members of the faculty who proudly wear theirs.

Prof. Agredo is an English faculty member who has several tattoos. He got his first tattoo when he was about nineteen; the tattoo is a a representation of the moon part of an Alphonse Mucha painting from Mucha’s celestial collection. He had this tattoo done in a studio in Williamsburg, but he recalls a time when tattoos were outlawed: “My mom actually has a lot of tattoos and I remember distinctly going with her to her friend’s apartment in the nineties [where] she would [get tattooed] and her friend, who was a tattoo artist, had to work out of her apartment because she couldn’t have a studio.”

Prof. Agredo doesn’t just have one significant tattoo. He makes a personal statement through each of them and thinks every tattoo through, “thinking and living with the idea” before placing the permanent mark on his body. Every ‘imperfection’ is a part of these statements: “I’ve come to really love that idea of the human hand being present. You have this relationship with this person doing the tattoo. [Every] line, even with its imperfections show that human element which I’ve come to really love.” Many of his tattoos have to do with his wife, who he clearly loves dearly, and different stages of their relationship. He and his wife have matching tattoos: a diamond on their bicep and for every year of their marriage they each add an extra glimmer.

As for his thoughts on tattoos in professional environments, Prof. Agredo insists that he would never work in an environment that cannot see past his tattoos as a testament of how good he is at his job. “I think you have to be considerate of your self-image to a certain degree, but I think you just also have to be true to yourself as well.” Tattoos are part Prof. Agredo’s identity and he is proud of each piece.

Another faculty member who wears their tattoos proudly is Ms. Nolan, BHSEC’s esteemed librarian. She got her first tattoo right after she turned eighteen. Growing up, she had admired Egyptian mythology and consequently, her first tattoo was a hieroglyph representing the Egyptian goddess, Isis: “She's a goddess of women and magic, and, to me, she's a symbol of strength, empathy, and cleverness.”

Just like Prof. Agredo, Ms. Nolan feels passionate about all of her tattoos—every tattoo is significant in its own way. Her tattoos paint a journey through life, the good and the bad. Ms. Nolan carries with her a key, representing a point in her life where everything was changing, a sun on her wrist, representing her mother’s resilience and successful fight with breast cancer. Even her most impulsive tattoo—a Celtic knot she got in Ireland while on a trip with her friends—was thought through for a week.

Despite the stigma of tattoos, Ms. Nolan never dealt with significant barriers because of them. Her father was apprehensive about it, but “came to see it as normal very quickly.”

The stigma of tattoos is changing, but at the end, they are pieces of art, each with great meaning to those who wear them. Even when they weren’t legal, people still wanted to express themselves and went to great measures to receive them. They are symbols of who a person is, and it because of this, faculty members hold great pride in their expressionism through their tattoos, just as the rest of the community of BHSEC express themselves in a myriad of other ways.