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An Artist Pricks Her Skin and Our Conscience Over Hate Crimes

The first names of as many as 400 victims of hate crimes will be etched into artist Mary Coble's skin using an inkless tattoo needle, and the beads of blood will then be transferred to sheets of paper that will form a gallery exhibit.
The first names of as many as 400 victims of hate crimes will be etched into artist Mary Coble's skin using an inkless tattoo needle, and the beads of blood will then be transferred to sheets of paper that will form a gallery exhibit. (Copyright Mary Coble -- Courtesy Conner Contemporary Art)

Q. How did you gather the list of 400 victims from the past 15 years?

A. I compiled my own personal master list. I naively thought I would be able to go to a Web site and find a complete list of hate crime [victims]. The FBI has statistics; however, those deal in numbered statistics, not names. I'm not claiming this to be the complete list -- hate crimes are underreported.

Q. And the idea for the tattooing, how did that arise?

A. I did a tattoo piece once before, during grad school, so I had some experience with it. For this piece, [as I read] descriptions of the murders, it was very alarming that, especially with gays, when people were murdered, their murderers carved specific names into their bodies. Names like "dyke," "faggot." Having these names tattooed on me is paralleling what happened to these individuals.

Q. Are the scars permanent?

A. Long-term, no. They disappear. Immediately, the blood will bead up. Then for the next couple weeks you'll be able to read the names. I'm guessing from past experience that within six months any traces will be gone.

Q. Why not use ink?

A. This isn't a memorial. I don't want to walk around with these names memorialized on me. I've gathered up the research I've done so people can see that this is a huge problem for this community.

Q. You titled the piece "Note to Self." Why?

A. The title refers to making prints from the list. They're notes as reminders to myself and all of the viewers that these people have been murdered because of hate crimes. Chances are, many people will see their first names someplace on the wall. It's a note to myself and to other selves.

Q. You've chosen to make yourself very uncomfortable. What does that mean to you?

A. This isn't about how much I can hurt myself. Believe it or not, I don't enjoy getting tattoos by any means. I'm pushing myself to limits and that's just part of the endurance aspect of it. But people need to know that people have died and that no one organization is keeping track. Things aren't being reported. A hate crime doesn't just focus on the individual. [Murderers] are speaking to the whole community.

Note to Self by Mary Coble at Conner Contemporary Art, 1730 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-588-8750. Performance tomorrow 6-8 p.m.; performance live online at http://www.connercontemporary.com/artists/coble/webcast.htm . Prints from the performance on view at Conner Sept. 9-Oct. 22, Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.


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