T.L. Cowan
We found faculty members who wear their hearts on their skin and asked them the (sometimes dreaded) question: “What does your tattoo mean?” (Photos by Alexa Battler)
Thursday, May 16 - 2019
Alexa Battler

T.L. Cowan, assistant professor in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media

On T.L. Cowan’s forearm are two birds perched on a branch — a tribute to the animals that helped her finish her PhD. 

For months, Cowan wrote her dissertation on spoken word performance in a room with a window. It overlooked a bush that was always full of chirping birds. 

“I spent hours and hours and hours thinking, ‘What’s the next sentence, what’s the next word?’ while watching these little birds run around in these bushes,” she says.

“They were very really central to my thinking process, so I got them as a thank-you for helping me finish my dissertation.”

T.L. Cowan's tattoos
On her left inner arm are the birds Cowan says helped her finish her dissertation, while an illustration from "The Book of Repulsive Women" twists around her right outer arm. 

Cowan says her tattoos reflect different stages in her life. On one arm is an abstract reimagining of “A9” — the unit number of the Brooklyn apartment where she lived for six years. 

On her opposite forearm is a series of sprawling cracks, an ode to Cowan’s love of rocks. A few years ago, while renting a cabin with friends on Lake Champlain in Vermont, Cowan saw the cracks in a rock while wandering the shores and skipping stones. 

The winding network of lines on her outer arm is based on an illustration from Djuna Barnes’ work of poetry, The Book of Repulsive Women. Barnes was a famous novelist of feminist and lesbian fiction in the early 1900s, and first published the book of poems in 1915. 

“I loved that idea of female monstrosity,” Cowan says. “That book is just great.”

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