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Refinery 29 United Kingdom

Black women tattoo artists get realistic about the industry

Monday April 12 marked the reopening of pubs, gyms and hairdressers across England and for those patiently waiting (read: desperately) for ink, the second step in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown meant tattoo studios were open for business again. However, for black people – especially those with darker skin tone – getting a tattoo is often not a straightforward process. Along with placement and design, we need to make sure that the tattoo artist we choose is trained to work with darker skin tones. Naturally, many of us, myself included, would go for a black tattoo artist in the belief that they would do the best job and know our skin better. Still, they remain relatively thin on the pitch – and black tattoo artists are even harder to pin down – which isn’t surprising, given that the white male-dominated tattoo industry is still a hostile place for these artists. . Nish Rowe, a machine artist currently based at Femme Fatale tattoo studios in east London, certainly feels the weight of being one of the few in the industry. “I feel like I’m very lonely here,” she tells Refinery29. Specializing in black work, gray wash and neo-traditional work, Nish believes black tattoo artists like her have been put adrift. “What I’m learning – especially techniques for black skin – I can’t really learn from anyone else. It was very difficult not to feel alone. Black skin, just like black hair, is strong but delicate and needs to be treated in a completely different way than white skin because of how melanated skin heals Minkx Doll Nish’s feelings resonate with the queer tattoo artist Brazilian Mani, who moved to London a few. years ago. “Many doors have been closed to me because I am a black migrant,” she says. Having started her tattoo career quite recently – she fell into the craft in Brazil in 2017 – the artist doesn’t feel like she belongs in the industry at large. And there is no wonder why. As west London-based tattoo artist Minkx Doll points out, even stepping in the door is a challenge. “Honestly, I don’t think a lot of black female artists saw tattooing as a possibility and finding apprenticeships can be a particularly exclusive club – you can feel left out early on on your career journey.” Minkx Doll is still fairly new to the industry and has found an apprenticeship in a studio run by another black artist; even so, she is keenly aware of her position as a black woman on the pitch. “I’ve noticed that black female artists are rarely, if at all, in line for tattoo conventions, so I’d love to see this change – it’s definitely one of my aspirations. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Mani (@ mani.tattoo) The difficulty in locating black female artists coexists with the fundamentally flawed belief that black people, especially those with darker skin, cannot be tattooed or have certain colors placed well on their skin. “This is the main misconception, but there are a few others, like we can’t wear white ink, we can’t have realism on our skin, we need to apply more pressure with the needles to end up scaring the person, ”Nish said. She insists that “anyone who learns to be a tattoo artist should be trained in all types of skills” but, in the end, this is where a lot of people go wrong. “When you practice tattooing, you tattoo friends first, then it spreads to friends of friends and so on and word of mouth slowly spreads,” says the queer tattoo artist and model. “If you are white with a white circle [of friends], you will end up prioritizing white people. If you continue without working on other skin tones every now and then to learn how to tattoo them, you might become a brilliant tattoo artist a few years down the road, but you still don’t know how to work with black skin. . This is the exact reason that motivated Minkx Doll to join the industry. “I noticed how poor tattoos on black skin were in general,” she tells Refinery29. “Black skin, just like black hair, is strong but delicate and needs to be treated in a completely different way than white skin because of how melanated skin heals. Tattoos, if not applied gently, can often cause scarring, and tattoos are often blurry and are generally unrecognizable the darker the shade. “The potential harm to darker skin is why Mani thinks it is so essential to choose artists wisely, as they will ultimately be part of a process that involves intimacy, pain and healing – in particularly on black bodies, which already carry so much trauma. “Searching well and finding artists who share a similar life experience to us, will bring us closer to people who care a lot and ensure that no unnecessary harm will occur”, she asserts. “There will be a deep understanding of the value of our lives and respect for our bodies as bodies that are already healing from the constant trauma of racism. In addition, BPOC artists aware of racial and politically engaged will never blame our skin for their lack of ability with any tattoo technique. The artist will ultimately participate in a process that involves intimacy, pain and healing – especially on the s black bodies, which already carry so much trauma. The practice of these three black tattoo artists incorporates a healing approach, especially when it comes to working with black clients, and only underscores the desperate need for networking for black women and queer black tattoo artists. Nish hopes to work on building such a network in the near future: “I would love to have a monthly drink and draw party where each time we would be in a different Black studio or studio with black tattoo artists and draw. together and get to know each other. She started thinking about an app that only hosts black tattoo artists where you can search for different categories and filter through styles, location, gender and even if the artist is queer or not. View this post on Instagram A post shared by MINKX • DOLL (@minkx_doll) Although the landscape for black women in the ink world has been bleak, it cannot overshadow the joy these women find in sharing their craft with other. “I feel like my job and the encounters I have with my black clients through my work liberate us – even if it’s just a kind of slow and fleeting release – because it gives us a moment. where we connect with each other and with the symbols of black resistance and negritude that have been denied us throughout our lives. Likewise for Minkx Doll, there is something almost heavenly and surreal about the tattooing process: “The tattoo literally brings your art to life. Your canvas is alive and so is your creation. Like what you see? How about a little more R29 goodness, here? For black women, the office culture is insecure



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