Contra Costa Library to Spearhead Exhibit of War Veteran Tattoo Art

February 17, 2014 16:00 pm · 15 comments


With nearly two million veterans in California and a generation of veterans returning from two wars, Contra Costa County Library has launched a timely and relevant project, War Ink, an online exhibit of Iraq and Afghanistan veteran memorial tattoo art.

The following information is from the Contra Costa County Library:

War Ink will launch on Veterans Day 2014, and represents a platform to explore the unfiltered record of war that veterans have documented on their body.

War Ink will consist of a multimedia exhibit of 18 veterans from throughout the state. Each veteran’s story surrounding their tattoos will be recorded by nationally renowned StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative, and their tattoos photographed by Shaun Roberts whose work has been featured in GQ, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose Magazine and The exhibit will be curated by Jason Deitch, the project’s scholar, as well as a former combat medic and sociologist, who co-created War Ink with Chris Brown, Contra Costa County Library’s Project Director.

“This project represents both a unique collaboration for cutting edge and relevant cultural programming as well as a powerful context for the authentic and honest voice of veteran culture…reaching into and genuinely interacting with the communities veterans are struggling to rejoin,” said Deitch.

War Ink will be made possible through an ever growing collaborative that includes StoryCorps, grant-makers Cal Humanities, Pacific Library Partnership, and a cooperative group of innovative library systems who are exploring the creative potential for the library field: Alameda Free Library, Contra Costa County Library, Mountain View Library, Oakland Public Library, Sacramento Public Library, San Diego County Library, San Jose Public Library, San Mateo County Library, Santa Clara County Library District, and Santa Cruz Public Libraries. Founder of StoryCorps Dave Isay says, “We are delighted to be partnering with Contra Costa County Library to celebrate the diverse and vibrant stories of California’s veteran and military community. In doing so, we remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters.”

War Ink was made possible through two grants awarded to Contra Costa County Library. Cal Humanities first saw the potential of the project and awarded the library a $10,000 Community Stories grant to supplement StoryCorps’ commitment to record the stories of 18 veterans for the Military Voices Initiative project. Pacific Library Partnership then more than doubled the projects resources with a $15,000 Innovation and Technology Opportunity Grant, allowing War Ink to expand beyond Contra Costa County.

Together, these grants created the opportunity for audacious and collaborative cultural programming, addressing a relevant social topic. Cathy Sanford, Contra Costa County Library’s Interim County Librarian adds, “War Ink will help a whole generation of veterans, who are returning home to Contra Costa County and the greater Bay Area, to share their story with the families in their community. I believe that in tattoo art we’ve found a common ground for both veterans and civilians to explore, and my hope is that War Ink will lead to a greater appreciation for the strengths and service of these courageous men and women.”

Veterans interested in the project are encouraged to contact Jason Deitch directly at or 510-593-8423.

6172crrew February 17, 2014 at 4:23 PM

Im interested, but Im pre-OIF, desert storm and somalia and only have 1 tattoo of my EGA, semper fi.

Jess February 17, 2014 at 4:54 PM

What a terrific project for our library to be involved with. Kudos to our librarians.

Atticus Thraxx February 17, 2014 at 6:08 PM

As I was scrolling by, my eye caught what it thought was “Judo to our Librarians”.
Seemed extreme but worth clicking on.
I wonder if they’ll take bad scarring as a submission. Stories behind those should be captured and recorded too.

Concord Guy February 17, 2014 at 6:54 PM

“Tatoo” and “art” don’t belong in the same sentence.

@#4 February 17, 2014 at 7:08 PM

That’s your opinion. Art is and has always been in
the eye of the possessor . Must people, particularly
psuedo religious types have a hatred for an ancient
form of decorative body modification or as I like to
call it, decoration. Tattoos are highly personal things,
and should be accepted as such.

Grumpy Old Man February 17, 2014 at 7:19 PM

I am a Viet Nam veteran. I wonder if they’d be interested in photos of my tattoos. I have three on my chest for alignment of radiation therapy. The lung cancer was a result of agent orange being inhaled for 11 months and 29 days. I can think of many more significant ways to honor our veterans.

Shelly February 17, 2014 at 7:35 PM

@Grumpy Old Man, now that’s a story. That and the battle scars are probably just a bit too real, I expect.

Bob February 17, 2014 at 7:46 PM

I don’t like tattoos, but I don’t care if other people get them. To each his own.

I’ve always wondered how people feel in their 80’s, especially women. It has to be embarrassing in the assisted living homes.

Antler February 17, 2014 at 8:39 PM

Grumpy Old Man at #6 ….. What a wretched experience…for you, all of ours, and the thousands of Vietnamese who were affected as well. I surely hope the radiation treatments did effect a great deal of healing, and I completely agree with your opinion.

My distaste for tattoos has nothing to do with religion. Why would anyone choose to do something so tacky, trashy, and self-demeaning?

Chris February 18, 2014 at 9:47 AM

@6172crrew. Please do contact Jason Deitch. We’d love to see your ink!

@Grumpy Old Man February 18, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Thank you for your service.

chalkboy8 February 18, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Tattoos seem to get under some people’s skins.

Dave February 18, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Tattoos make you look hard, even if you’re not. They’re not for me, but I don’t care if others get them. I’m sure they’ll regret their decision when they get older, especially women.

Calica February 20, 2014 at 4:15 PM

Tattoos are sentimental, I served two combat deployments, one in Iraq in 09′ and Afghan in 11′, I’m 24 years old and I don’t regret any of my Marine Corps tattoos. They are a reminder of my brothers and what we struggled through and survived for our country. The focus is not about tattoos, but the people and their stories of what they lived through so everyone could sleep soundly in this country. Show respect please.

Chris Brown February 22, 2014 at 8:24 AM

Hi Calica,

Thank you so much for the response, and for getting at the exact point of the exhibit–that these memorial tattoos tell the story of the incredibly close bonds between our service members, as well as the story of their own service. If you live in California I sincerely hope you’ll contact Jason Deitch 510-593-8423.


Chris Brown
Senior Community Library Manager
Contra Costa County Library

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