Today ( June 21st 2020) is National Indigenous People’s Day. Indigenous people have a rich history of body modification, including tattooing, which is still being practiced today.
Before colonialism ravaged North America, tattooing and other traditional body modifications such as piercings were practiced widely by different people throughout what is now Canada and The United States.
These tattoos were meant to represent family, clan crests, social rank within a clan, their relationship to a specific territory, and even hunting and fishing rights.
Tattooing and piercing are just two ceremonial practices that were forbidden by colonists in an attempt to stamp out Indigenous culture, and today, many artists are bringing it back.
North American Indigenous designs are similar to those of the Maori people of New Zealand. Geometric patterns using black ink, produced generally by tapping or threading the ink into the skin using a natural rod or thread, also called “hand poked” or “skin stitched” tattoos.
Placement is also similar between the cultures, often placing important tattoos on faces and hands, among other body parts.
Indigenous tattoos traditionally take inspiration from nature, such as animals, plants, and the elements. But of course Indigenous tattooers can and do work in other styles.
There is unfortunately still quite a bit of subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism in the tattoo industry. It’s often believed that customers with darker skin are harder to tattoo, but that’s certainly not the case. Especially as body modification is such an important part of all cultures and histories, not just white ones.
Black ink is also not the only ink that has to be used on dark skin, contrary to what many believe. Darker skin can still feature bright and colourful pieces. you just have to know what you’re doing with that tattoo machine.
More tattoo artists should push themselves to learn how to tattoo different skin types, including darker skin, as the subculture of tattooing isn’t so “sub” anymore. It can be disheartening for black or tanned customers walking into a tattoo shop when all they see is flash painted on white paper, and portfolios filled with white skin, or only very dark tattoos on darker skin.
(June 2020) With the world finally rallying beside our black brothers and sisters it’s more important than ever to support black businesses, including tattoo artists.
Feel free to leave more links to black tattoo artists below!
Rob Kelly is the owner of BLACKOUT Tattoo in Hong Kong. Rob has been tattooing since 2005, and has lived in Hong Kong since 1994. BLACKOUT Tattoo was founded in 2010 and features brilliant permanent artists as well as travelling guest artists.
Rob tattoos in many styles including American traditional, Neo traditional, black work, Japanese, Chinese, black and grey, line work, realism, tribal, and more.
Rob has a book of flash you can choose from, or you can book a consultation with him and collaborate on something completely original for yourself.
The shop abides by all health regulations, including using new ink and needles, so no need to worry about infections.
Rob has incredible attention to detail and will make sure you leave the shop happy and with a badass tattoo! Check out his website and set up a consultation http://www.blackout-tattoo.com
A bodysuit is the ultimate way for a tattoo collector to show their dedication to the craft. A bodysuit is most often done as one cohesive piece, usually in one style. But some people do start getting tattooed without the intention of having a bodysuit, then end up growing into it.
Japanese is the most well known style for creating bodysuits. Done by one artist, tied together with background work such waves, clouds, and other nature themes.
More recently black work is becoming more popular for full bodysuits. Either heavy black work or smaller pieces.
Similarly people get bodysuits of American traditional pieces. Hundreds of small pieces filling up a body to make it look more or less like one huge suit.
Black and grey, neo traditional, and realism styles are also being used for bodysuits now, making for eye popping artwork.
The word bodysuit may make you think of really a full body covered in tattoos, but it also refers to torso pieces that lead onto the arms, and/or legs.
Samuel is a German artist who has been tattooing since 2008. He has tattooed in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Thailand. New Zealand was where he cemented his interest in Maori/Polynesian tattooing, which is what he mainly does now.
Samuel is drawn to the thick bold lines and black work of Polynesian tattoos, and the possibility of creating full bodysuits in this style. Along with Polynesian work, Samuel also does dotwork and blackwork pieces, including lots of mandalas and henna inspired pieces.
Most of Samuel’s work is large, half or full sleeves, back pieces, and even full bodysuits. Though he will do some smaller designs, mainly mandalas.
Samuel works out of his studio in Ravensburg, Germany.
The Li people live in Hainan Province, China’s most southern point. Tattoos in Hainan can be traced as far back as 3000 years ago. Hainan is often referred to as “The Tail of the Dragon”, as it is the most southern point of China, though also used to be called one of the eyeballs of China (along with Taiwan when it was a part of China) as it is an island province.
According to one German ethnologist (branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples and the relationship between them), Hans Stübel, the origin of their tattooing came from a story about a descendant of the original Li. This descendant of Li had a daughter whose mother died early in the child’s life. When this happened, a colourful native bird called the hoopoe fed the child with grains to keep her alive. In remembrance of this, the Li women tattoo themselves to look more like the birds, both in their colour and the patterns of their wings.
Others still believe that the women tattooed themselves in order to be recognized in the afterlife.
A more practical reason that these women tattooed themselves, particularly on their faces, is the fact that their villages would be attacked often by many of their neighbors. In order to appear unattractive to the invading men, the Li women tattooed quite intricate designs on their faces and down their necks. Making themselves appear less attractive protected them from violence and rape.
Later on in history though, these women saw the tattoos as an enhancement to their beauty. When a girl turned 13 or 14, an older woman would tattoo her, first on the nape of her neck, then her face and throat over the course of 5-7 days. Then, over the next 3 years, she would continue to be tattooed along her arms and legs. The only thing that interrupted this would be the death of a family member. Once a woman married, her hand would also be tattooed, marking her as a married woman.
Like many ancient cultures, the Li used a bamboo rod, with rattan needles to hand tap the designs into the skin. The patterns used did vary from tribe to tribe, but all used motifs taken from nature, such as plants, animals, and totemic symbols passed down through generations.
Information taken from:
-Carrie E. Reed. “Tattoo in Early China.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 120, no. 3, 2000, pp. 360–376.Liu, H. (1939).
-“Hainan: The Island and the People.” The China Journal 29(5-6): 236-246; 302-314.
-McCabe, M. [and Q.Y. Wang] (2008). “Tattooed Women of Yunnan, China.” Skin and Ink Magazine (11): 64-74.
-Stϋbel, H. (1937). Die Li Stämme der Insel Hainan: Ein Betrag zur Volkskunde Sϋdchinas. Berlin: Klinkhardt & Bierman.
Nissaco is a tattoo artist based in Shinsaibashi Osaka at an unnamed private studio that goes by the name room_23_26 on Instagram.
Nissaco does mainly large scale pieces such as full sleeves, back pieces, and even body suits. His style is black geometrical work and it is extremely detailed.
His work is hard sought after with visitors going to see him from all around the world. Along with having clients from around the world, he also travels, going to various tattoo conventions. Most recent he will be at the 13th London Tattoo convention in September 2017.
Along with being geometrical in design, Nissaco’s work also often features classic Japanese elements such as dragons, waves, flowers, snakes, koi fish, and hannya masks. These pieces are almost entirely black, but occasionally feature a small amount of red to make them really pop.
Nissaco is a must see artist in Osaka, Japan, but book well in advance as his books fill up fast!
White ink tattoos is a style that is much talked about in the tattoo community. Such a light colour will always fade quite a lot, but the discreteness of this style is also what makes it popular. Some people are also fond of them for the fact that when they are noticed, they look more like a scar than a tattoo, without having to go get scarification done. If done properly, white ink tattoos can look fantastic, and last a reasonably long time. Some people choose to get white ink pieces mixed with light amounts of yellow or brown in order to make them last longer, while others let them run their course and fade naturally. That being said, most of these pieces should last a lifetime, if not being particularly noticeable.
Watson Atkinson is one of the most sought out white ink tattoo artists. His work Below shows what attention to detail he has.
White ink tattoos are often done on top of black pieces to really make them pop.