Within the hallways of Montclair State University, there are students who express their artistic side through a unique work of art: their tattoos. They come in various colors of ink, sizes, places, prices and meanings.
Gina Bakri, a senior communication and media arts major, has two of them despite being raised with the idea that “trashy people” have tattoos. She mentions how her parents discouraged her from getting them prior to her first one, which is of her parents’ wedding anniversary in Roman numerals on her upper right arm.
“I got my first tattoo in Lebanon in May 2015 around the time I found out my father was remarried,” Bakri said. “After my parents’ divorce, I wanted something that would remind me of how my parents had to have loved each other at some point. Even if they claimed they never did, there had to be love somewhere to make [my sister and I].”
Bakri describes that the 45-minute tattoo session was slightly painful and an act of rebellion. Once the tattoo artist moved toward her armpit, it caused her discomfort. She also has a matching ankle tattoo with her sister that represents the hand of God with the evil eye inside.
For Abhishek Desai, a junior computer science major and past president of the Montclair State Barbell Club, he has his first tattoo on his left calf that pays tribute to a parent in a different light. Desai wanted to honor the death of his father.
Before college, Desai’s family had a history of tattoos, which explained why they were not against his decision. He was a child living in a countryside village in India, where there were miles of unfinished construction on the road. His father, who worked with contractors and planted over 200 trees, made the road look like it is underneath a canopy of trees. The significance of the tattoo stems from the deeply seeded roots of the memory of his father.
“My father’s death meant [a lot to me] and changed a lot of things in my life,” said Desai.
Desai does not regret any of his body art, including a second one of a barbell on his left wrist that expresses his interest in lifting. He plans to get one more to honor students who have suffered from mental illness.
While some tattoos show love and respect toward students’ families, others can serve as time stamps of someone’s life, including Chris McGovern’s, a sophomore television and digital video media major with a concentration in sports media and journalism.
McGovern served in the U.S. Army for three years as an M1 Armor Crewman. His responsibilities within his billet included operating tanks in rough terrain, reading maps and firing weapons. His first tattoo, “Land of the Free,” is in a thick black font displayed proudly across his chest as it symbolizes his transition from civilian to military life.
“After basic training in Kansas, I was assigned my first duty station and I got a tattoo to signify this new chapter of my life,” McGovern said. “I was pretty nervous at first since I hate needles.”
McGovern stated how the tattoo artist was uncertain of how he would handle the pain. Since then, he has received two additional tattoos: one of Babe Ruth’s autograph on his left bicep and a four-leaf clover near his chest with ancient Gaelic writing that translates to “Family Forever” in English.
The inspiration behind the Babe Ruth autograph was because McGovern and him share certain similarities. They both have the same birthday, their favorite number is three and his family loves the Yankees. In a sense, his third tattoo with the clover connects with family also, as he shares the same one with his dad and brother on the same area of the chest.
“I know that I won’t regret it [because] I don’t care what it looks like when I’m 80 years old,” said McGovern.
Another student who decided to get tattooed was Alexyss Panfile, a junior communication and media arts major. Panfile’s first tattoo was a quote she found online when she was 18 years old on her left bicep. It read, “I am better than I was. I will be better than what I am.”
“One day, I just woke up and said I was going to do it,” Panfile said. “I am the type of person who has to do something on impulse or else I think about it too much and I end up regretting it.”
Two more pieces of Panfile’s body art included a tattoo of blue daisies on her left shoulder in dedication of her late uncle Craig William Panfile, and a matching traditional dagger and heart with her best friend. She plans to get more tattoos but feels that the prices are getting more expensive.
Some of the misconceptions about tattoos that Panfile mentioned were the symbolism behind each one, how it interferes with employment opportunities and the feeling of regret.
These four students may have had different tales behind their tattoo art, but there is a distinct connection: the essence of family. Their bodies are their canvas as their tattoos paint their life story.
This article was originally published in HawkTalk Magazine.