“We are our stories and our tattoos are how we remember never to forget.” (Isaac Fitzgerald in Pen and Ink , 2014, x)

 Hearing stories of love, life, laughter, and loss by persons with tattoos motivated me to create an online community and resource for persons with tattoos, researchers, tattooists, storytellers, and curious others. As a person with commemorative tattoos and a sociologist at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, I knew this was a project I did not want to do alone, nor could I do alone. The Tattoo Project is a community effort that will continue to have collective rewards. Thus far, our Project team consists of persons with commemorative tattoos and researchers. We invite you to join us in creating a digital archive for your tattoo photos and the stories they represent.

Hoping you join us,

Deborah Davidson, for The Tattoo Project  Team


What is a Commemorative Tattoo?

A commemorative tattoo is one which has significant meaning for its bearer. It is a tattoo in memory or honour of a living or deceased person, animal, place, relationship, key life event or transition.  If you understand your tattoo to be a commemorative tattoo, we do too!

Tattoo Facts

Tattoos are increasingly accepted as conventional.
Approximately 23% of North Americans have at least one tattoo; 32% of Generation Xers (post baby boomers born between 1960 and 1980) have at least one; and 38 % of Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) have at least one tattoo.

Why a Digital Archive for Commemorative Tattoos?

The purpose of the digital archive is fourfold:

  1. To provide a repository for commemorative tattoos, for the public to upload their commemorative tattoos and contextualizing narratives, empowering users to make the project a social tool of their own,
  2. To serve as a cultural heritage site, acknowledging important memories and sharing them publicly,
  3. To provide scholars with a digital database of commemorative tattoos and narratives for analysis
  4. To develop relationships between academics and the public.

How Will the Archive Work?

When the archive is ready, you will be notified and will be given the opportunity to upload photographs of your tattoos, either by using existing photos or by using your computer’s camera.  You will also be asked to contribute the stories about your tattoos.  The stories may be short or long, in prose or poetry.  You will also be given the opportunity to share your stories as audios or videos. 

By the time the Digital Archive for Commemorative Tattoos is up and running, we will have received ethics approval from York University.  This information will be posted on the site.  Those interested in viewing your tattoos and stories will have access to them, but will not be able to comment on them by way of our archive.  You will have access to delete or change your photos and stories.  A team member will moderate the site.  More information will follow as we proceed with The Tattoo Project.  Thank you for your interest and your patience!

The Team



Deborah Davidson

(Sociology, Team Lead)

Melanie Baljko

(Computer Science, Team Lead)

Deborah Barton

(History and Communications)

Lisa Darms


Andreas Kitzmann


Gayle Letherby

(Sociologist and Civil Celebrant)

Aaron Lupton

(Library Science)

Arthur McLuhan


Anabel Quan-Haase

(Sociology and Information and Media Studies)

Nick Ruest

(Library Science)

Priscila Uppal




Mary Khan




Erin Riley


Tattoo Artist


Wayne Galbraith


Professional Wellness Consultants


Susan Salluce 

Andrea Warnick


Project Assistants


Cameron Penny

Ruth Tait

Alicia Tomaszczyk

Community Team Members


Nick Fitz

Stuart Gilboord

Catherine Legault

Stephanie Pangowish

Craig Roxborough

Kirsten Salmon

Gina Snooks

Helena Stahls

Also Forthcoming…

From Canadian Scholars’ Press, The Tattoo Project: Visual Culture and the Digital Archive (Davidson, Editor, 2016). 

This will be a contributed volume, an edited text composed of original writings from academics, lay persons, professionals and practitioners.  In this book we discuss ways to preserve the past through our community-based and action oriented project to collect and archive commemorative tattoos and their accompanying narratives.  The book will include photographs by Erin Riley and poetry by Priscila Uppal (“Canada’s coolest poet”) Watch for more to come!

The Tattoo Project: Exhibits!  Erin Riley, our photographer and I will be planning exhibits of her project photographs.  Watch for more to come!

Media Coverage

This project began with interviews of people with memorial tattoos, those in memory of deceased loved ones.  The Tattoo Project  has now expanded to include all types of tattoos with meaning for their bearers.


2013-09-03. A Digital Archive for Memorial Tattoos, Independent Art & Culture, CHRY radio

2013-08-15. A Digital Archive for Memorial Tattoos, Barry Morgan Radio Show, CJAD radio

2013-08-13. A Digital Archive for Memorial Tattoos, Evening News, CBC Television  


Davidson, Deborah. 2014. Our Commemorative Tattoo Project: Creating a Digital Archive for Commemorative Tattoos. Paper presented at the Canadian Sociological Association, Brock University, May  

Davidson, Deborah. 2014. More than Cool: Creating a Digital Archive for Commemorative Tattoos. Presentation for Spring Campus Day, York University, April   Davidson, Deborah. 2014. More than Cool: Creating a Digital Archive for Commemorative Tattoos. Webinar for the Centre for Student Success, York University, February  

Davidson, Deborah and Melanie Baljko. 2013. Research, Civic Engagement, and Social Media: The Why and How of a Digital Archive of Memorial Tattoos. Paper presented at Social Media: Implications for the University, York University, May  

Davidson, Deborah. 2012. ‘Death Displays’ the Living: Why a Digital Archive of Memorial Tattoos? Paper presented at the Canadian Sociological Association, Waterloo, Ontario, May  

Davidson, Deborah. 2102. Tattoos as Memorials. Presentation for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Day, York University, February   Davidson, Deborah. 2010. Tattoos as Memorialization. Presentation for Plymouth University, UK, June  

Davidson, Deborah. 2010. Written in the Flesh: Embodied Grief and Tattoos as Memorialization, Poster presented at the BSA, Medical Sociology Conference, Durham, UK, June

Photo Gallery

The Gallery represents a small sample of tattoo photos that may be included on the Digital Archive.


 “A tattoo, whether an ornate full back piece or a scratcher job done in somebody’s living room is art.  A photograph of a tattoo never quite captures it; here, art represents art, art representing stories, stories representing life.  Because everyone, tattoos or no, has a story.” (Isaac Fitzgerald in Pen and Ink 2014, x)


     Visit the Gallery…

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Artist’s Statement

Two Memories. Commemorative tattoos mark a transitional moment in our lives. And entwined within such moments are the two emotions of love and loss. These combined feelings are represented in the distinct and overlapping lines of the two figures. The bright, joyous colours contrast the sombre expression of their faces. Happiness may be simultaneously felt with pain. The overall shape of the image may be seen as a heart being opened or closed, or as a set of lungs breathing energy into life. The curved line or string in the centre is the story we weave about ourselves, which is ever-changing, ever-flowing, as our experiences continue to redefine our memories and our tattoos. 
-Mary Khan