Memorial opens exhibition about tattoos in the military: Ink in the Lines

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new exhibition which relates personal stories and experiences of Australian veterans through the use of tattoos, Ink in the Lines, is now on display at the Australian War Memorial. 

Ink in the Lines features more than 70 portraits and details the experiences of 21 Australian servicemen and servicewomen. It is thought to be the first exhibition in Australia to examine the use of tattoos in the military.   

Throughout 2019, Memorial photographic curator Stephanie Boyle, photographer Bob McKendry and videographer Stephen Toaldo captured oral history interviews and portrait photography documenting the stories of servicemen and servicewomen and their tattoos. Many of the images and stories that were collected also form part of the Ink in the Lines exhibition.

There is a diverse range of people featured in the exhibition, yet throughout, a  common unifying purpose for getting “inked” emerges: to remember.

Ms Boyle said the veterans’ identities are inscribed on their skin – the commemoration of loss, experiences of trauma and overcoming adversity, the bonds of family and friends, and acknowledging the experiences that define who they are.

“I hope this exhibition helps visitors engage with Australian military in a way they probably haven’t before, and see that everyone has an important story to tell and that some stories can be written on skin.

“The service people we met making this project told stories that are funny, sad, tragic and above all, human. We continue to be touched and grateful for their honesty and generosity in sharing their stories,” Ms Boyle said.    

Memorial Director Matt Anderson said Ink in the Lines is a contemporary exhibition showcasing Australia’s modern veterans and their families, who through their tattoos commemorate the people, events and experiences which shaped their lives.

“The experiences of present-day veterans, and their loved ones, are unique and often intensely private. There is no more personal way to preserve a memory of an event, than to have it tattooed on one’s skin. I would like to thank the veterans who participated in the exhibition for offering their stories. Through their tattoos and their stories, they continue to serve as a reminder of the service and sacrifice we all too often take for granted,” Mr Anderson said. 

Ink in the lines is on display in the Special Exhibitions Gallery until 27 January 2021. To see it, visitors can book a Galleries and Commemorative Area ticket through the Memorial website at, which includes access to Ink in the Lines and the 2020 Napier Waller Art Prize.

A range of information and content related to the Ink in the Lines exhibition, including images, articles, podcasts and vodcasts can be found here.

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