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The Winter Residency Got Under My Skin: The Lexington Tattoo Project of Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova

The Winter Residency Got Under My Skin: The Lexington Tattoo Project of Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova

I never before had a desire for a tattoo. How would I choose an image to have under my skin forever? While I admired the artistry of some tattoos I’d seen, I never had inspiration or reason to get one myself. At the Bluegrass Winter residency, a presentation by visiting Lexington artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, a poem by Frank X Walker, and the idea of being part of a global community changed my mind and offered a reason for me to get inked.

At the residency, Kurt and Kremena shared their vision of creating community by bringing diverse people together through art, a “desire to create a global community by intertwining poetry, tattoos, design, photography, spoken word, storytelling, and music.” (The World Tattoo Project)This vision inspired them to create the Lexington Tattoo Projectin 2012. After hearing poet Bianca Spriggs read at the locally renowned Morris Book Shop, they invited her to write a love poem to the city of Lexington, and enlisted people from the local community to get tattoos with the various phrases of the poem. (Bianca was also a visiting artist at the 2016 Winter Residency.) Community is the living, breathing, visual vessel for Bianca’s poem. In addition to the lines inked on individuals that create one whole piece, relationships were fostered. The participants met one another while getting their tattoos inked and photographs taken, in larger group events, and they continue to find one another in everyday encounters on the street. Together, all of them, become the poem.

The project expanded to Cincinnati, Boulder and other cities, and now globally through the World Tattoo Project. The poems are love letters to the cities where the participants live, or in the case of the World Tattoo Project, the whole world. The artists build communities of participants who each bear a piece of a poem under their skin. In the World Tattoo Project, multiple people are tattooed with each of the phrases from Frank X Walker’s  A Love Letter to the World. Each tattoo includes a phrase from the poem surrounded by small images –radiating circles in the case of the World Tattoo Project. The artwork around the text of each tattoo comes together to form a larger image that is revealed at the end of each project.

A few weeks after the winter residency, the words “and love”and scattered images like falling stars or puffed dandelion seeds are a permanent part of the landscape below my left collarbone. They were gently etched there by tattoo artist Chris at Revelation Studios, while we talked about his young daughter and the joy of parenting. My husband, his shoulder raw with the phrase “it is,” looked on. We hadn’t been drinking, and the place was not what I assumed a tattoo parlor might be- not dark or gritty, no rough sailors wielding big sharp needles. It was a friendly cross between a neighborhood coffee shop, spa, and art gallery where paintings lived and moved on the patrons. It felt like a place where community lives. What drew me there was the message of Frank X Walker’s poem, and the desire to be part of a larger community of people worldwide who share at least one thing in common:  we each now have beneath our skin a part of Frank X Walker’s letter of gratitude for the world and all it has to teach us, and reminds us “that everything we do to you/we also do to ourselves...” (Walker)

The last I checked, 417 people worldwide requested my phrase, “and love” while 396 share Joe’s “It is.” I wonder who and where these people are and what inspired them. For me, this was a poem that wanted to stay with me, and the tattoo was a way of drinking it under my skin and keeping it for a lifetime. I will be reminded: and love. and love. and love. Together, my husband and I say, “and love. It is” It sums how we want to be in the world. Our tattoos mark us as part of a human tribe – made up of people who may never meet, bonded not by territory, race, religion or politics but by a poem, a love letter to our common home. Someday I may come across someone else who wears these words, and I’ll have this story to tell when I’m old.


Tricia Coscia is in her first year of studies at Bluegrass Writer’s Studio, working toward her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives with her family in Morrisville, Pennsylvania and does her homework on the train to and from her job as Community Engagement Coordinator for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Tricia received her BS in Art Education from Kutztown University of PA in 1984 and has worked in non-profit, social services and the arts since then, while companioning her children on their journeys.

Published on March 10, 2016

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