Tattoos of Toronto

Someone in Toronto started an Instagram account sharing the stories behind people's tattoos

Lots of people in Toronto have tattoos, but although we see them peeking out from under sleeves, collars and pant legs we rarely know the stories behind them.

Someone in the city has started an Instagram account cataloging tattoos of the people in Toronto, sharing simple photos paired with short explanations of the body art straight from the people who have them.

"Tattoos of Toronto started in January of 2020 as a way to showcase stories and art. With a background in social work, and a fascination with tattoos, I've had a curiosity of people's experiences and the meaning behind their tattoos. In many communities, there still exists a stigma about tattoos," Zeba Tayabee, who started Tattoos of Toronto, told blogTO.

"I wanted to show that there's more than just ink on a body, there is a story. As someone with a tattoo as part of a culture where both tattoos and mental health are taboo, I weaved my narrative into art to redefine and reclaim my body. After reading the stories featured on the Humans of New York page, I had an idea to combine my interests and do something similar."

The Humans of New York Instagram acccount has been around for a while, and is now a verified account and has an IRL book counterpart. Tattoos of Toronto follows a similar formula to Humans of NY, pairing simple photos with stories.

"When the project first launched, I asked friends and family, found people through word of mouth, walked around the streets and handed out printed cards with the Instagram handle or left them at different places hoping people would message," says Tayabee.

"COVID-19 has limited my ability to reach out to people in person, but I have used the power of social media and tattoo artists in the Toronto/ GTHA area to connect with people who want to share."

The compelling and sometimes heartbreaking stories behind people's tattoos on the Toronto account range from 18th birthdays to grandmothers battling cancer to past gang ties. Tattoo styles range from illustrative, to extremely simple linework, to lettering, black and white, full colour, old school, or new school.

"There has been such a positive response to the project from both the people involved and outside observers. For some participants, it was the first time someone asked them about their tattoo, for others, it brought back memories of where they were in their lives when they got the tattoo," says Tayabee.

"People were more than happy to share their stories and found the experience cathartic. For those reading the posts, I often get messages about how people can relate to the story, who want to share their own story, or know someone that might. The richness of the stories and the unique artwork keeps observers wanting more. It has also become a platform to tag artists."

Some of the tattoos are crisp and absolutely stunning, some muddy and aged, but regardless they all have a story to tell and a deeper meaning. So whether you want to shine some light on the brilliant artist who tattooed you or want to open up to the Internet about the art on your body, Tayabee is looking to hear from you.

"You can follow the project on Instagram @tattoos.of.toronto," says Tayabee. "If you would like to share your story, please message me and I would like to hear from you."

Lead photo by

Tattoos of Toronto

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