Trauma Written in Plywood and Flesh: Hurricane Graffiti, Post-Katrina Tattoos, and the Value of Narratives to Hazards Research
Alderman, Derek H.; Ward, Heather; Gentry, Glenn
Dr. Alderman explained that narratives are an important way to understand how people were impacted by a hurricane. Graffiti and tattoos are visually evocative narratives written on plywood and flesh as opposed to paper. Hurricane graffiti can serve as a practical tool or as an indicator of tensions and needs. Post-hurricane tattoos serve as memoirs, vehicles for retelling hurricane stories, and as a way to express trauma. A visual content analysis was used to identify specific themes evident in hurricane graffiti inscriptions. Some of the major themes included history, defiance, desperation, territoriality, humor, politics, and prayer. An example of graffiti as history is a piece of graffiti outside of a store that said, "1) Charles, 2) Frances, 3) Ivan, 4) For sale." An example of graffiti as defiance is, "Take a hike Ike." An example of graffiti as desperation is, "We need power!" An example of graffiti as territoriality is, "Looters will be killed." An example of graffiti as humor is, "Santa’s naughty list: Charles, Frances, Ivan." In the tattoo study, tattoo artists were interviewed. One artist, Tom, decided to get a tattoo of an X on his leg after Hurricane Katrina, which references the rescue symbol. This tattoo, like many tattoos, elicits stories from others, allows him to retell his story, and serves to provide a collective memory. Narratives are significant because they are personal and social and provide tremendous insight. For this reason, these types of narratives are important to natural hazards research.