Tattoos have been around for as long as human kind. Some may argue that it was the first form of self-expression and art. Individuals began utilizing tattoos to identify with their beliefs. Native tribes are known for decorating their bodies with patterns to identify with the Gods or to the tribe itself. Upon the discovery of Egyptian mummies, evidence was shown that tattoos were solely a female practice. Images of Bes, the ancient Egyptian God, protector of women and children, were placed on women around the abdomen, top of thighs and breasts, interpreted as a ritual for childbearing.
Pop culture has introduced various heavily-tattoed public figures throughout the years. It’s become a norm among Millennials and because of it, we are gradually escaping the stereotype that an individual is unable to fill a professional role due to the amount of visible tattoos they have.
The arts have always fascinated me. It’s one of the reasons I decided to give my body its own voice. My life is narrated through my tattoos. I’ve collected moments and phases among the surface, as a mortal exhibit to the world.
The artist behind my work is my friend Eric Zulu, who currently works at High Contrast Art Studio in Houston, TX. I was fortunate enough to have met Eric around the time he began tattooing in 2009. Drawing had always been a pastime of his. When he decided to begin tattooing, he simply saw it as another medium of art. After various attempts to learn from others, he ended up teaching himself by mimicking what he saw and practicing on himself and close friends.Seven years later, Eric has molded himself into the tattoo artist he was determined to be. Beginning with line work such as names and working his way to surrealism, his preferred style. When I asked how the industry has changed since he began tattooing, he said, “Science got involved.” He went on to explain that the improvement in equipment has increased competition, creating new styles along the way. “Painters changed the game,” he continued, “their styles are more vivid and realistic. There are no limits. You can literally tattoo anything.”
When I decided to get tattoos, I honestly didn’t think about the reaction I’d receive from people I encountered on a daily basis. Initially, I began with small images and then branched out into getting bigger pieces. I felt I was narrating my story through my own creative work. I wanted these illustrations for my own safekeeping. At times I forget I have them, but I am quickly reminded as others stare in awe. My tattoos have been gateways for conversation while standing in line at grocery stores, coffee shops, post office, you name it!
Throughout the years, as I’ve collected a series of visible tattoos, I’ve noticed the way the world reacts to my presence. Millennials are among the ones more accepting of my tattoos. The rest probably wonder what my mother thinks.
One interaction in particular that I had with a stranger will forever stick with me. I was at a gas station with a friend and as I browsed for peanut M&M’s, an older woman approached me. Everything happened so quickly, but before I knew it, she had a grip on my left arm and as she observed it, she began repeating in Spanish that I could “still be saved.”
At first, I felt defensive and quickly retreated my arm. How dare she question my faith? But as I stared into her eyes, I saw fear and understood that she truly believed what she was saying. How could this stranger believe she could define me simply through her interpretation of MY tattoos, let alone assume my destiny for all eternity? Was she insulted by my self-expression?
Nowadays, we have the means to be connected to one another more than ever before. Still, society likes to isolate one another for each other’s differences. It’s easier to point out diversity than it is to try and understand it. Tattoos have been misunderstood throughout history. Their meanings have changed and are as unique as the person themselves.
Most of us with visible tattoos are more than willing to explain, “what they mean” or clarify if “they hurt.”
Instead of being intimidated by the unknown, become informed. I was never a gang member, and none of my tattoos were made in a prison somewhere. I did not pick them off a flash tattoo wall or binder. They were all carefully thought-out as a memoir of my life and the people in it. Each piece was assembled by an artist and made to recreate an image envisioned in my head. And yes, my mother still loves me.
The hype tattoos currently have is like most trends. Some do it to “look cool,” others to further their identity, and the rest even frown upon it. Wherever you stand, do not deny yourself the opportunity to express those views, but also be willing to respect those who do not see things in the same manner as you. I view my tattoos as contemporary accessories. They are not shameful. They are empowering.