Bristol fellowship recipient Monika Rybak ’18

With about one-third of American young adults having body ink, tattoos have gained in popularity. The treatment of tattoos in the United States has varied throughout the country’s history, and Monika Rybak ’18 wants to know why. Even more, she wants to know where various tattoo traditions come from and how inking experiences differ across cultures. Using her Bristol Fellowship, “Moving away from tattoo taboo: memory, identity, tattoos,” she plans to travel around the world and answer those questions.

The Bristol Fellowship is designed to encourage Hamilton students to experience the richness of the world by living outside the United States for one year and studying an area of great personal interest. Rybak, one of two Bristol recipients this year, will receive a $30,000 award.

About Monika Rybak ’18

Major: Neuroscience

Minor: Women’s and Gender Studies

Hometown:  Warsaw, Poland

On-campus activities: peer counselor, ESOL tutor

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Rybak said that she is grateful to have been awarded the Bristol and is anxious to explore cultural customs. She said that she aims to “learn people’s patterns and symbols and to gain a more integrated perspective on how this form of body art is a visible manifesto on the skin of the struggle for national and cultural identity, gender identity, racial, and gender discrimination, and the need for self-expression, self-transformation or commemoration.” Rybak also intends to use her research to “show how tattoos are healing, commemorative, and meaningful acts.”

In her proposal, Rybak explained that tattoos, generally associated with the “working class and criminals,” have been “partially subverted to middle-class aesthetic choices.” She said that “In countries where tattooing is an ancestral practice, which was disrupted by colonization, reclaiming culture and reviving traditions is vital for the tattoo community as indigenous tattoo practices have informational, spiritual, mystical, religious, and familial meanings.” Through her fellowship, she will investigate both attitudes toward tattoos and overall familiarize herself with the ways in which communities use and respond to body art.

Rybak will visit Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Samoa. Throughout her travels she will shadow and interview anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, tattoo artists, tattooed individuals, and exhibit curators. She will attend tattoo festivals, observe studios, and learn more about cultural tattoos from experts.

Rybak, a neuroscience major and women’s and gender studies minor, is a peer counselor and a tutor for English for Speakers of Other Languages. She has previously served as a research assistant and has volunteered for Amnesty International. During her junior spring, she studied abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The Bristol Fellowship was begun in 1996 as part of a bequest to the college by William M. Bristol Jr., (Class of 1917). The purpose of the endowment, created by his family, is to perpetuate Mr. Bristol’s spirit and share it with students of the college that was such an important part of his life.

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