'War Ink' exhibit uses tattoos to open dialogue between vets and civilians

‘War Ink’ exhibit uses tattoos to open dialogue between vets and civilians

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'War Ink' exhibit uses tattoos to open dialogue between vets and civilians

Click photo to enlarge Couresty Photo/Johann Wolf Mike Ergo, of Walnut Creek, served in the U.S. Marines from 2001 to 2005. Like many veterans, former Army infantryman Zakariah Bass tells the story of his military service through tattoos.

But getting non-vets to understand, he said, hasn’t been easy.

"People are people," said Bass, 30, who recently moved from Fairfield to Pittsburg. "It’s just finding ways to connect with them."

Hoping to use tattoos as a springboard to tell their stories, Bass is among 24 inked-up California vets participating in an online exhibit opening today meant to build bridges between returning vets and the vast majority of people who have never served.

Developed by the Contra Costa County Library in partnership with others, the grant-funded project, titled War Ink, uses photography, video and audio interviews to open a dialogue between civilians and vets.

"Veterans need ways to reconnect with their communities," project co-creator Chris Brown, senior manager at the Contra Costa County Library, said in statement. "As librarians we’re pleased to play a part in bridging that gap and sharing the poignant stories of our veterans."

More than 2.5 million U.S. men and women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More than 7,000 have lost their lives. Those who have returned have paid other costs, including feelings of alienation in a nation where less than 1 percent of the population has served in the military.

"Without shared understanding, the men and women who have served cannot come all the way home," said Jason Deitch, an Army veteran, social researcher and veteran advocate who created the project with Brown.

AdvertisementBy using tattoos as an entry point, Brown and Deitch said the project’s goal is to spark conversations that can build community."Every tattoo on my body tells a story," said former National Guard medic Ron "Doc" Riviera, of Capitola, one of the veterans featured in the project. "If people would just ask, they wouldn’t get a movie or a […]