Visitors to The Cowboy will see many reasons for tattooing in our exhibition, Tattooing: Religion, Reality and Regret, dedicated to showing tattooing practices in Native American cultures and around the globe. Tattooing was, and still is, a way to show tribal affiliation, religion, military service, to honor a loved one or to serve as a record of life experiences.
Makenzi Northenor, an Education Program Assistant at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, has a very simple reason for choosing to get tattooed – because she wants to.
“The Tattoos on my arms, none of them have a super-specific meaning,” she said. “But, whenever I was in school, I would always doodle in the margins of my notebooks and everything. So, this is kind of a manifestation of that. Each one has its own individual meaning and altogether it’s kind of a sketch pad.”
She has chosen black and white tattoos because she can’t commit to a single color, but if she feels colorful one day, she fills in her tattoos with markers.
“I’m really glad when it washes away,” she said. “I just prefer black and white.” Makenzi has stars on her back and plans for more celestial designs … or outlines of famous museum buildings (including The Cowboy) … or nothing at all! Her tattoos are a work in progress and subject to change.
“By the time I die, I might be completely covered in tattoos, or I might just have it on my arms and my back,” she said. “So, I don’t know yet… I just like staring at them. They’re so cool, I just love them… They’re just for me. I don’t need anyone else to understand what I’m doing. It might look messy and unorganized, but it makes sense to me, and that’s what matters.”
Inspiration for tattoos can be sporadic. She will get an idea for a tattoo and go to a tattoo shop the next day – a practice she does not recommend for first-timers. Makenzi recommends thinking about a tattoo design for at least six months before getting the work done. To her, the motivation and reason for tattooing are for her and for no one else. She got her first tattoo at 18 and doesn’t see herself stopping, but she still sometimes struggles with the stigma and misconceptions associated with tattooing.
“I guess I don’t give off the tattoo vibe, so when people find out I have almost half a sleeve and then one going up my back they are always like, ‘why did you get that?’” she said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know, ’cause it’s cool!’”
Makenzie sees the stigma around tattoos lessening, and she is glad to see the deeper meanings and purpose of tattoos being explored in the Museum’s tattooing exhibition. It may even be the first place she directs visitors to when they come to The Cowboy! Tattooing: Religion, Reality and Regret remains on exhibit through May 1 with many more opportunities to interact with tattoo artists and learn about the practices of tattooing. For opportunities to learn about tattooing, visit the Museum Events page.