Black Girl Adventure: Tattoo Convention
For the past year or so I’ve been craving tattoo number three. Like most people, I started out with a tattoo that held special significance, as if going through some cataclysmic change in life just simply had to be documented permanently. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate a good tattoo in the same way that I do a good glass of wine – it’s cool to drink it from the box and all but since I know what quality is, quality is what I must seek. And I’m not talking about my name in cursive or paw prints on my ta-ta’s. I wanted a stylized piece of body art, and since I’m brown-skinned I knew I’d need special attention to color. So to find someone who could work with my skin, my friend Tamika and I ventured where few black girls have gone before: The Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention.
Let’s get one thing clear – it’s exactly what you think it is. Thousands of body modification enthusiasts converged in one place, put in other words, is a freakshow. Within five minutes of walking onto the convention floor I stopped noticing people with huge, visible tattoos. Within 10 minutes, body piercings, anywhere from nipple to forehead, were absolutely commonplace. Everyone was out and proud with their bodywork and the buzz of tattoo needles across the room was constant (over the blasting heavy metal music, which threatened to drive us crazy).
Those first few minutes of freakiness are what make events like these a black girl adventure – the “oh unh unh”-ness of such an environment activates our fight-flight response. I counted only 13 black folks, most of which seemed “regular”. Three of them were getting tats – in fact one black woman had her kids there waiting while she got it, which was strangely cute. Other black folks included artists and a few young-boys looking for a hot tattoo. As you can see, I count black folks in these situations just on general principle. Really, there was just too much to look at for me to bother with apprehension. What business could I have feeling like “the other” while standing in line at the Snack Bar next to a man with his entire face tattooed to resemble a blue-green jigsaw puzzle?
One of the first crowds we joined was surrounding a girl having her fresh corset piercing laced.
How does one even care for something like that? I asked her and she said that the best way to do a corset piercing is to do only one hole at a time and since her hoops would never heal properly she would be taking it out before leaving Philly and going back to her “normal” life. She did, however, have five or six piercings in her face, so don’t call her an underachiever.
After a straight-faced Tamika asked an attendant “where can we see people hanging from their skin?” he pointed us to the suspension demonstration downstairs. If you’re easily grossed out don’t even bother to look at the video that Tamika snagged.
Yes, a hook through your knee piercing allowing you to hang and swing through the air. A closer look through the forearms:
Aside from the displays of body modification supplies, jewelry, and clothing, we also got the chance to look at some pretty amazing tattoos (a depiction of The Garden of Eden where the apple looks edible – hot. Dr. Phil’s face – not), demonstrating how much skill goes into the art of tattooing. The event was way more artistic than rebellious considering it included a Japanese hand artist hammering out tattoos with a piece of sharp bamboo.
I knew that I wanted a traditional tattoo with some color and had researched a tattoo artist named Jaz whose work I really liked. He came up with a color scheme that wouldn’t look like one of those nasty, absurdly red, half-eaten strawberries for which chicks in Philly are notorious. Two hours later, I had this gorgeous piece on my back for life:
It’s about five inches by six inches on my back. Not only does the size make for a better design which is the whole point, when I hesitated I was told “go big or go home” and took the plunge. I have no intention of stopping and am already planning my next one, hopefully by the same artist. Yes, it did hurt, at its worst like a hot nail being scraped across my back, but the pain is a strange accomplishment-related type of enjoyable. No, I’m not worried about when I’m old because I’ll still be me, and considering it’s on my back, when I’m still rocking tube tops at the age of eighty-four there will be more pressing issues to attend to than Grandma Thembi’s tat. What do I get out of it? Part of it is the rush, part of it is for the freak factor, most of it is for the beauty and self-expression. No, I don’t have to get tattoos to get those things out of life, but it’s how I like my medicine. I guess I’m officially a tattoo chick.
Inside of that convention no one batted an eyelash at anything weird because there was no such thing as weird. While someone without tattoos or piercings may have felt out of place at first, since there was little intolerance anywhere in the building no one would even treat you funky for being square. On our way out a kid with two barbells in-between his eyes stopped me and complimented my nails (for the past few months I’ve been dabbling in a little hoodrat-style airbrush). He was impressed by my red, black, and white checkerboard stenciling and was sure it must have cost at least $50. I let him know that just a few miles away in West Philly, airbrush only costs $7 with a refill. He was astonished because he’d never seen anything like that before.
Weirdness is so relative. And being one in a sea of freaks is always a great thrill.