Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Erik Kikas, second-year student of Psychology and Neuroscience from Estonia, is just 21, but he already has an impressive collection of tattoos. The second one he had done runs from his shoulder halfway down his right arm: an owl with a clock and the words ‘Enjoy every moment’.
“When I was thirteen and fourteen I was so stressed about school that my mother took me to see a psychologist. I was always one of the best pupils in my class, but I set the bar so high that I’d get panic attacks if I got a bad mark. There was only one path for me: primary school, high school, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a good job. One bad mark and I saw my future go up in smoke. My hands would shake, I couldn’t write or concentrate anymore, which meant I could no longer study, and that only made the panic worse.
Gradually I learnt from the psychologist that getting high marks isn’t everything in life. It’s okay to fail sometimes; a bad mark here or there barely affects your average. The psychologist got me on to mindfulness and meditation. That’s how I learnt to live more in the present, to enjoy the things that are happening right now. To appreciate how far I’ve come already. I enjoy small things like taking a walk in nature, and I’m really proud that I’m studying at university abroad.
The owl in my tattoo represents education and wisdom. The clock symbolises time: that time flies and you should be mindful of that, because before you know it you’ll be old and grey. The words ‘Enjoy every moment’ speak for themselves. The tattoo took fifteen hours to do. The tattoo artist suggested making it really big on my back, but I wanted it on my arm. It’s a reminder, so you have to be able to see it.
My mother really doesn’t like it. She doesn’t mind tattoos, but not on her son. She makes me promise that every new tattoo is the last. I can’t blame her. In Estonia tattoos are often associated with criminals and prisoners. My parents grew up in Soviet times, when the prisons were notoriously bad. Sometimes I get a shock when I look in the mirror. I think about what I would have looked like without tattoos. But I have absolutely no regrets; when I look closely at them, I know exactly why I had them done.”
In this series, employees and students are interviewed about their tattoo.