Social activists take to body art

Stephen Heggem, residence life coordinator for the Oaks, says his tattoos represent who he is through significant life changing experiences, including last year’s mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which resulted in 49 deaths. His teal ribbon stands for sexual assault awareness./ photo by Nadira Fatah
Stephen Heggem, residence life coordinator for the Oaks, says his tattoos represent who he is through significant life changing experiences, including last year’s mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which resulted in 49 deaths. His teal ribbon stands for sexual assault awareness. / photo by Nadira Fatah

Gabriella Chikhani
Online Editor

A wave of social and political movement tattoos have cultivated a form of activism through means of body art.

Stephen Heggem, residence life coordinator, got a tattoo of a rainbow inside a heart on the inside his left wrist the week of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016.

“The 49 people that died, their narrative now, their identity, is smeared on the news, both national and international and that’s something I’m really protective of. People’s identity and how they choose to share that, especially sexual identity, is something we should have control of,” Heggem said. “The person that went in there and destroyed their lives, stripped and violated them from that.”

Heggem lived in Jacksonville, Florida at the time and said there were a lot of complicated emotions that he was wrestling with, and that his students were really struggling.

“I identify as gay and have been out since Aug. 1, 2012,” Heggem said. “That moment in my life was particularly impactful because I was actually in Orlando that weekend and had driven up the day before the shooting happened.”

Heggem said he normally takes a year to two years before committing to a tattoo, but that one only took a matter of days.

“To honor what that experience meant to me and to honor the lives we lost, I thought it was important for me to have that illustrated somewhere on my body,” Heggem said.

Heggem also has a tattoo of a teal ribbon on the inside of his right wrist. The ribbon and its color stand for awareness of depression, anxiety and survivors of sexual assault.

“Be brave, have hope” is the second tattoo Heggem had done and is on his left arm, the arm he used to cut when he struggled with depression.

“This reminds me that I used to do that and that is something I survived,” Heggem said.

“Because my left arm is my recessive hand, it is what I receive things with, so I receive people’s hope and courage to get me through whatever I need to get through.”

While serving as a private in the army in Arizona, sophomore anthropology major, Arturo Gonzalez, volunteered often at an animal shelter.

His affection for dogs inspired him to get a tattoo of a dog wearing sunglasses on his upper left thigh.

“I had an epiphany where I felt like I would never accomplish anything unless I gave back and helped animals in some way,” he said.

Gonzalez says the dog is hiding his tears with sunglasses and is crying as a result of the horrors of dog fighting and overall mistreatment of animals.

He has four adopted pets: two dogs, Andrew Jackson and Jimmy Carter and two cats, King Henry the Third and Alexander Graham Bell.

“I don’t like saying no to animals in need, and I’m not complaining at all, I really like it,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez plans on having a dog sanctuary sometime in the future. As a strong supporter of animal shelters and dog rescues Gonzalez’s tattoo is the start of a theme he hopes to maintain with future tattoos. Gonzalez wants to have a sleeve of cats tattooed on his arm sometime in March.

Emily Burchett, senior public relations major, got a tattoo of the liberty triangle on her wrist during her volunteer work with the Invisible Children organization.

“It represents sticking up for your rights and others’,” Burchett said. “Being self-sufficient means it is my responsibility to fight for other’s human rights.”

After graduating high school, Burchett deferred her acceptance to Carroll College and traveled with the Invisible Children organization. She gave presentations about the Kony 2012 campaign and helped raise funds for children.

“They’re not master pieces of art, but they are reminders to me that we are all human,” Burchett said.

Gabriella Chikhani can be reached at gabriella.chikhani@laverne.edu.

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