Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us with any questions, inquiries, or comments regarding the Serpents of Bienville project.

           

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

For the Love of Tattooing, the Transformative Tattoo:  Robert Waldrup

Blog

 

 

For the Love of Tattooing, the Transformative Tattoo: Robert Waldrup

Sean Herman

Here's the fifth story in our series "For the Love of Tattooing, the Transformative Tattoo", that we are presenting with our good friends over at openoureyes.org. To learn more about this series, check out our introduction blog here.  We hope you enjoy!.

Sean Herman


 

“There are things that must evoke our anger to show we care. It is what we do with that anger. If we direct that energy we can use it positively or destructively.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Daily Express, 29th October 2008.

 

“Usually, when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks (1965), p. 107.

 

Tattoo by Sean Herman

Tattoo by Sean Herman

One of my most vivid first memories I have is based in the emotion of anger.  In my memory, I am sitting at the edge of my mother’s bed, her lifeless body hanging over the side, an arm hanging over next to me.  I am clenched in fear, having just shook her body, attempting to wake her up from what I didn’t realize at the time was a self inflicted attempt at an ending of her pain.   I remember frantically dialing the numbers for the only phone number I knew, my best friend Scott.  As he answers, what should be a childlike conversation between two 6 year olds begins with me saying, “Scott, my Mom is won’t wake up, what do I do?”  He quickly handed the phone off to his babysitter, and she walked me through calling the police.  From there everything speeds up in my mind.  Like a scene in a movie I sit in the center of the room while the world quickly moves around me.  Paramedics come in, taking her body, and eventually reviving her.  In a room full of chaos, I found myself alone and angry.

Starting at a young age, anger became part of my everyday life.  My home life, and the isolation it created, caused me to internalize this feeling, hold it deep inside, causing it to fuse with my being. I can recall the outbursts that would erupt once it boiled over, ending in my screaming at a parent to be heard or seen.  That pain caused me to not only internalize my anger, but to couple it with over whelming guilt over my actions, actions that I believed were the reason I found myself alone.  This cycle continued until I was fortunate to get involved in punk rock and hardcore music, these movements helped give my anger a voice, a direction, a purpose.  I can clearly remember riding in a van my friend’s mother was driving, and hearing Black Flag for the first time at the age of 12.  The lyrics to “Rise Above” became engrained into my brain.

"Jealous cowards try to control

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

They distort what we say

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

Try and stop what we do

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

When they can't do it themselves

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

 

We are tired of your abuse

Try to stop us; it's no use!

 

Society's arms of control

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

Think they're smart; can't think for themselves

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

Laugh at us behind our backs

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

I find satisfaction in what they lack

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

 

We are tired of your abuse

Try to stop us; it's no use!

 

We are born with a chance

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

I am gonna have my chance

Rise above! We're gonna rise above!

 

We are tired of your abuse

Try to stop us; it's no use!

Rise above!

We're gonna rise above!”

 

 From that time I subscribed to the belief heard so often of “your anger is a gift”, hoping that this idea could be a way to use this powerful emotion that consumed so much of my being, and try to create something positive out of it. Something had to come out of this feeling that grew for so long.  


Photo of Robert Waldrup

Photo of Robert Waldrup

 

From the moment I first met Robert Waldrup I felt we had a kindred spirit.  Robert has a passion in his voice, a way of speaking that is almost song like, causing you to want to listen and be inspired by his words, which I immediately was.  Our upbringings were similar, marred by divorce and isolation.  Robert had an intense relationship with anger, one that I knew so well.  Robert used this emotion to begin researching and working towards the ideals of social justice.  We bonded on the history of the Black Panther Party, resistance movements through history, and the ideas of standing up for the oppressed cultures and peoples whose voices could not be heard.  The radical movements of the 1960’s had a quote that was consistently repeated, “If you aren’t angry then you aren’t paying attention.”  

In the years since my first vivid memory of anger I have learned the power anger carries, and the ability it can have to isolate the carrier.  In Robert I found a brotherhood, an encouragement, and bond in an emotion marred with pain.  The power Robert commands from his anger, the way he can redirect it and use it for social justice is inspiring, and most importantly for myself, it reminds me that I will never be that alone child trembling in fear next to a lifeless body.

Robert explains this relationship, its complications, and its ties to the tattoos he wears that we have created together for so many years now.   

 

Robert:

I don’t often recall my dreams, but one dream in particular recurs more than any other.  The setting and location varies, but the overall theme remains the same.  There I am, a grown ass man, being talked to like a child, by none other than my own mother.  And there I am: silent, verbally paralyzed, helpless, powerless, searching for the words to assert myself as a full grown human being.  A full grown human being entitled to experience the full range of human emotions; happiness, fear, sadness, joy, anger.  Unfortunately for me, my daily existence is consumed by anger.  

James Baldwin once powerfully remarked, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all of the time.” And certainly, as a black male, an attorney, and a military member, I grapple everyday with incontrovertible truths that fuel my anger: that black folks are roughly 13% of the American population but comprise nearly 50% of the prison population; that the law school I graduated from is located in a city that is 60% black, but somehow managed to construct my graduating class with a mere 5% of black students; that roughly 70% of black children, including myself, are raised without fathers;  that I have routinely been the sole black officer in my unit over the last eight years; that my name is one bad police encounter from becoming a hashtag;  that a majority of people I encounter on a daily basis, white or black, couldn’t care less.  But at the end of the day, my anger stems first and foremost from my relationship with my mother.

Tattoo on Robert Waldrup by Sean Herman

Tattoo on Robert Waldrup by Sean Herman

My parents divorced when I was six, and the responsibility for my upbringing, nurturing, and emotional development was entrusted to my mother.  To me, she was all I had.  To her, I was an inconvenience.  Undoubtedly, my father’s substance abuse—and my parents’ shared culpability for domestic abuse—motivated my mother to “live her life,” finally freed from the throes of her tumultuous marriage, even over the tearful lamentations of her only child.  But these tearful lamentations resonated not with her, as she annoyedly referred to me as “a thorn in her side.”  Too young to process the import of these words, I just cried.  Unable to find the words to express how her physical abuse and emotional neglect made me feel, I just cried. But when the tears yielded nothing from her but further embarrassment and humiliation, my tears turned to silent anger.  I grew older, and the anger turned to numbness.  I grew older still, and with age came reflection, and with reflection, more anger.  Anger over the fact that this woman could actually fix her mouth to call me a thorn in her side. Anger over her unscrupulous promiscuity that she flaunted in my face.  Anger over the realization that the one thing I really wanted—an honest, heartfelt apology—I would never receive.  But most importantly anger at myself, because years of receiving zero respect for the expression of my feelings robbed me of the courage to say what was really on my mind to just about anyone, about just about anything. 

Tattoo by Sean Herman on Robert 

Tattoo by Sean Herman on Robert 

 

Everyday I struggle with the power of speech.  My anger makes it difficult for me to express discomfort, displeasure, or discontent with a mild tone and non-profane diction.  And most often, realizing that my default mode of expression—a raised voice or a profanity laced tirade—will not achieve the desired result, I keep silent.  But for the last seven years, tattoos have been the medium for me to make an angry, unapologetic, and provocative statement without fear of ridicule, disparagement, or humiliation.  To date, Sean and I have worked together on twenty-one projects, and I can say with conviction that all twenty-one sessions have not only been creations of masterful works of art, but therapy sessions assisting me in finally finding my voice.

Frida Kahlo tattooed by Sean Herman

Frida Kahlo tattooed by Sean Herman

The first piece we worked on was a portrait of Frida Kahlo.  I wanted a portrait of Frida—someone that knew the pain, heartbreak, and misfortunes of life like none other—to remind me that the ability to love and to speak powerfully does not have to be destroyed, even if betrayal, disloyalty, and the misdeeds of others befall us.  Since that piece, Sean and I have completed portraits of Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, and Che Guevara.  These pieces have been a constant reminder to me of the importance of deliberate, impassioned, and bold speech.  Moreover, in moments where I may have otherwise felt muted or dissuaded from expressing myself, they have emboldened me to speak my mind.  My portraits are not only beautiful tattoos, but daily reminders that my thoughts, my emotions, and my words matter.

 

 

Click through this gallery to see more of the tattoos Robert wears from Sean Herman

 

A few nights ago, I had the dream again.  This time however, I was not phased.  My mother got angry, raised her voice, and ratcheted up her belittling of me, but only because she realized her vitriol did not bother me.  She realized she was not talking to a child she could control and manipulate, but a full grown human being; capable of experiencing the full range of human emotions, and fully aware that those emotions mattered.  I didn’t yell back at her, but responded only with the stoic confidence of a grown man, my tattoos fully visible.


SEAN HERMAN

SEAN HERMAN IS A FATHER, TATTOOER, WRITER AND CREATOR.  BORN MOVING, HE WAS INVOLVED IN ALL KIND OF MOVEMENTS FROM MISSIONARY WORK IN YOUTH,  TO PUNK ROCK TO ANARCHISM, THESE ELEMENTS ARE WHAT SHAPED HIM TO BE WHO HE IS TODAY, ALL COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, AND ALL THE SAME.  THE ONE THING THAT WAS ALWAYS A CONSTANT WAS POSITIVITY AND THE ART OF CREATION.  LEARN MORE AT WWW.SEANHERMAN.COM