For many people who survive suicide attempts, serious injuries, or life-threatening surgeries, living with the tell-tale scars that reveal what they have gone through to the world can traumatic in itself. But B.C. tattoo artist, Auberon Wolf, is offering them a better alternative. By providing survivors with beautiful tattoos that conceal their scars, the 29-year-old Wolf is hoping to give them a way of "rewriting" their past traumas and help them move on with their lives.
"You just can't help but think, what can you put there to help the person feel more comfortable in their own skin," said Wolf in a recent interview with CTV News. "What can I bring to that with love and care, that's more than just art?" Through careful planning that often varies depending on the nature of the scar and the wishes of the client, Wolf is able to create individual designs that can conceal burn marks, scars from self-cutting, mastectomy scars, and even stretch marks from a traumatic pregnancy.
And Auberon Wolf knows about the importance of life-affirming tattoo work firsthand. A design on her left arm conceals scars stemming from the self-cutting she once engaged in as a teen. Being on-campus during the 2006 Dawson College shooting as well as her own experiences with accidents and sexual assault has further sensitized her to the link between body scars and trauma. In talking about her own process of recovery, she described her tattooing as an "immense vehicle for personal empowerment."
Her customers certainly agree with this philosophy. As many as ten clients a week visit Wolf's Vancouver studio and don't seem to mind the long tattooing process, which can take months in some cases. Though not all of them can afford the tattooing, Wolf allows some to pay through barter or traded skills. One customer, Jenny Magenta, proudly showed off an elaborate tattoo which hides two scars on her right arm. One of these scars is from a suicide attempt while the other from an intravenous needle used in medical treatment. The tattoo design she chose is a flower bouquet to honour her late mother. Though she reported experiencing flashbacks when the tattooing began, she felt safe and reassured in Wolf's hands.
"I now have a beautiful piece of art here," said Magenta, 46, as she showed off her floral tattoo to reporters. "I'm able to use this as an empowering device. I don't get traumatized anymore."
Not that there is anything unique about Auberon Wolf's work. Tattoo artists the world over are being recruited to mask scars such as from mastectomies or violence. Some agencies such as Brazil's Municipal Secretariat of Policies for Women are funding female tattoo artists to provide services for trauma survivors.
As University of British Columbia nursing professor Elizabeth Saewyc points out however, "one size doesn't fit all" when it comes to using tattooing to deal with trauma. "As with any other way of reclaiming your body and dealing with it's really good to go into it thoughtfully and to get that careful, informed consent," she warns.