Third-Year Student Angela Nguyen Discusses the Mental Health Tattoo Art Exhibition in Powell Library

Have you seen the Mental Health Tattoo Art Exhibition currently in the Rotunda? We talked with Angela Nguyen, a third-year psychology student who co-developed and curated the exhibit in addition to contributing her own photo (below), to learn about the inspiration and work that went into the project.

Student Angela Nguyen's ankle tattoo of a butterfly with a suicide prevention ribbon for a bodyQ: Tell us about the exhibit and its inspiration.

A: My art exhibition is on Mental Health Tattoos. All of the art pieces featured are photographs and stories of tattoos related to a person's experiences with mental health/mental illness. The inspiration for this exhibit came from my own tattoo and the final project prompt for the class my partner and I are taking: Honors Collegium M179. Our final project was to put on an art exhibition that critically discussed a social issue. We chose to focus on the intersection of mental health/mental illness and tattoos, and the stigma against both.

Q: How did you find others to share their stories in this exhibit?

A: I began recruiting for volunteers to submit their tattoos/stories online through social media (Facebook posts and events, Instagram, posting my email, etc.), and when my partner joined me shortly after I started, she also helped advertise through flyers around campus. However they heard about the exhibition, volunteers then emailed me their tattoos/stories directly.

Q: Can you tell us about the process of making this exhibit a reality?

A: Most of the work involved recruiting really heavily for the volunteers. I started with posting a photo and story of my own tattoo, and we just advertised from that starting point. We obviously couldn't do an exhibit on one or even just a few tattoos/stories, so that was a great deal of the work. Then we had to look for an appropriate venue, and once we had reserved Powell Rotunda, it was just printing out the photos/captions and setting them up.

Q: What do you hope the UCLA community will take away from seeing the exhibit?

A: There's a couple things that we hope the UCLA community will take away from the exhibit.

1) The intersection between mental health/mental illness and tattoos is a real thing. A lot of people who have dealt with mental health issues get tattoos to symbolize their experiences or their recovery.

2) These mental health experiences are very relevant and real, and even if many people don't realize it, there are people all around campus (and beyond) with these stories of mental health/mental illness.

3) The stigma against mental health/mental illness and tattoos is unwarranted. These are real people who are sharing their tattoos and stories, and they should not have to hide either one. Tattoos are considered "trashy," and mental illness is considered "laziness or craziness." But neither of those misconceptions are true. 

4) By showing genuine, personal experiences in such a public space, we hope the campus community will eventually become more open to hearing about mental health and seeing tattoos. We want to make campus a safer place to be open about these.

Q: Fun question: What's your ideal way to spend spring break?

A: My ideal way to spend spring break is with loved ones, lots of good food, and plenty of time to relax/sleep.

Thanks, Angela!

The Mental Health Tattoo Art Exhibition will be on display through Tuesday, March 15th. Stop by the Rotunda to take a look at the stories and photos students have shared.

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