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Black Girl Adventure: Tattoo Convention

21 April 2008 11 Comments

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:

It was a pretty sanitary environment but I refuse to believe that someone didn’t catch at least a little hep in there.

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.


  • Undercover Black Man said:

    Thembi, I would not have guessed.

    I’ll skip that video, though. Thanks anyway.

  • Aaliyah said:

    yay black girl adventures! they are necessary. i applaud you. i’m having my own little black girl adventure – i’m learning to swim with the hopes of surfing before i’m 30. tatoos…i never was a tatoo chick but lately i’ve been thinking about it too. i’ll keep you posted.

  • TalentedTenth said:

    check out the g-spot in delaware. the artist i went to is george moore, and he is very good. in addition to tattoos, he also does oil paintings and customizes bikes are different biker clubs in the area. he actually added on to a tat on my back and i was more than pleased:


  • THE 78' MS. J said:

    That tattoo is the bees knees and you are officially a rock star now so break out the black knee high boots and get you a shiny purple mohawk wig and get the party started.

    As soon as I have some official money I am getting a decent back piece to add to my collection of 5 tats that I already have.

  • THE 78' MS. J said:

    That tattoo is the bees knees and you are officially a rock star now so break out the black knee high boots and get you a shiny purple mohawk wig and get the party started.

    As soon as I have some official money I am getting a decent back piece to add to my collection of 5 tats that I already have.

  • Lola Gets said:

    Ive seen video of folks hanging from their skin, so Ill take a zero on this one, thanks.

    Ive never been to a tattoo convention before – perhaps I should check one out. I have one tat, but I want more. Its a permanent version of a mehendi design on the small of my back. Its big, it has a lot of blackening, and because I have permanent nerve damage in that area, hurt a hell of a lot more than it would have on a “normal” person! But I love it. I want to add more to that design, like they do with real mehendi, but I need: 1) Someone to drive me, cause the pain is so bad, I cant drive myself afterwards! 2) To do it in the colder months, cause I aint got no ac at home and the first tat didnt do so well in those conditions. Perhaps, one day…wish me luck!


  • Qucifer said:

    I love it, love it love it, being a tatts/piercing freak myself I would have been one of the 13 black folk up in there

  • Invisible Woman said:

    Great post–being one with 4 tats and getting 2 more (my last) this month I understand.

    People suspended by their skin reminds me of the movie scene with Dustin Hoffman in “Little Big Man” where is suspended by his nipples by a pair of eagle claws…nothing new there… :-)

    I am actually more surprised by your hoojetta airbrush nail job than anything else. You betta work!

  • LaJane Galt said:

    YAY!! I have 3 tats and am planning some major reworking. I wish I could have gone to the convention.

  • mzvirgo said:

    I’m just visiting your site (via Blogxilla) and I love this blog about tattoos! I have 8 of them and I think I am done (as a hater told me that I am running out of places to put more on). You are right, it is the rush that you get from getting one. Or two. Or three. Nice tattoo by the way.

  • Dara said:

    i love this story. it brings to the surface the fact that inside i still yearn to rock multiple face peircings (including a tiny one in my septum…hot) and a half sleeve on flowers and related pretty shit on my right arm. like sister like sister, i guess.

    side note: im due for a second tat. help?

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