All Articles
All Articles
CULTURE

Interview: Marisa Kakoulas and Margot Mifflin on Tattooing in the New Millennium

We speak with the two experts on women in the industry on the eve of their Powerhouse Arena panel discussion

by Graham Hiemstra
on 03 March 2014
Women-in-Tattooing-Jessie-Knight.jpg

All things counter culture reach a point of popularity where they cease to exist exclusively in the periphery—some just take longer than others to reach the tipping point. Tattooing, for example, has existed for thousands of years, yet only in the past few decades has its popularity increased seemingly to a point of no return. However abundant tattoos may have become, many will argue a stigma still exists—especially when society's eye is turned towards women who've chosen to adorn themselves. While we like to think all is well and equal, it's a simple truth that it isn't—although views will, and do, continue to evolve.

To discuss the history of women and tattoos, and the current state of contemporary tattooing, Brooklyn's Powerhouse Arena will host a panel discussion this Thursday, 6 March 2014. Led by "Black Tattoo Art 2" author Marisa Kakoulas and Margot Mifflin, author of the recently revised "Bodies of Subversion" book, the panel will also host respected women in the industry such as Roxx, Virginia Elwood, Stephanie Tamez and Amanda Wachob. To touch on some relevant topics and get some insight regarding what will be discussed at the event, we recently spoke with Kakoulas and Mifflin.

women-in-tattooing-roxx-Shenni.jpg
In 2014, I know far more people with tattoos than without—do you feel there is still a stigma? Specifically against women with visible tattoos?

Marisa Kakoulas: While there is a lesser stigma in this era about tattoos due to their popularity, negative stereotypes about tattooed people still exist. I believe that there is a misinformed premise that people only get tattooed as some form of rebellion, which completely ignores the fact that men and women have gotten tattooed for millennia as a form of personal expression, beautification and for a wealth of other reasons. There is also the dichotomy that tattooed women are both fetishized and ostracized due to their choices of body modification. Breast implants are acceptable—but they shouldn't be tattooed. We'll delve into this at our panel discussion, and I'm really looking forward to it.

How do you feel about the current interest in traditional, Sailor Jerry-style tattoos? Do you feel the pirate ship or gypsy will become the tribal arm band of this generation?

Margot Mifflin: This is a classic style that’s integral to our nation’s tattoo history, so in a sense it’s timeless. But personally, I’m pretty tired of it. I’m also stumped by why the gypsy—of all the historical female options—is such a female fixation. It’s just a pretty face with no association with power or historical consequence. Maybe she represents freedom, but even that’s kind of an ethnic cliché that doesn’t carry well into the 21st century. Still, of all the representational tattoo styles, the classic imagery is less likely to become clichéd than other trends because it’s endured for so long.

women-in-tattooing-elwood-portrait.jpg women-in-tattooing-tamezback.jpg
Do you feel there is a measurable difference in the styles of male and female tattoo artists? Or is it like any art; where the style depends on the individual, not the gender.

MK: I used to hear, "She tattoos like a girl," many years ago, but no longer. "Tattooing like a girl" usually referenced the actual subject matter that was being tattooed rather than technique, and I think a lot of it had to do with more women clients feeling comfortable with female artists and wanting more feminine motifs. Today, those lines are blurred, and yes; the style does depend on the individual. There are renowned women tattooers who follow the "bold will hold" old school tattoo mantra, often seen in classic sailor tattoos and there are men creating decorative watercolor-inspired compositions with a softer edge. These artistic boundaries no longer seem relevant today.

"Bodies of Subversion" touches on Victorian society women who wore tattoos as couture. Do you feel we're again at a similar moment in time where tattoos are more often acquired for fashion than for any spiritual or personal meaning?

MM: I don’t know that anyone’s quantified it, but from the people I’ve talked to it goes both ways: some people just wanted something that looks nice; others want to invest the tattoo with personal associations. It used to be that women were more likely than men to get them for symbolic reasons—maybe because they were discovering their symbolic potential, or maybe because getting one was such a big step and it had to be justified. But that seems a little less common now.

women-in-tattooing-jessie-knight-backtat.jpg women-in-tattooing-Jessie-Knight-face.jpg
The original version of "Bodies of Subversion" was released in 1997, what do you feel is the most significant addition to the new edition?

MM: In terms of the art, the biggest change is in the range and quality of tattoos. Thus, the addition of the chapter on the new millennium—which shows abstract tattoos, text tattoos, craft and trade tattoos in a wide array of styles that embrace a broader spectrum of art historical references. As far as the business of tattooing goes, the big change is that women are no longer struggling as newcomers to this profession. Even though you see a clear gender imbalance on the roster of artists at tattoo conventions, the speed at which women have set up shops and established themselves in the industry is really remarkable, especially compared to many other arts where they still struggle for equal opportunity, not to mention equal pay. The fact that the tattoo industry isn’t rigidly institutionalized the way the fine arts world is allows women more independence, power and mobility within it.

But there’s also an important addition to the first chapter: Jesse Knight, the first British female tattooist, who started in 1921. She learned from her dad, who tattooed the family crest on her back. She was the only female artist in the UK for decades; she ran her own shop and built her own machines. A client Knight tattooed when she was in her 60s remembers her lighting a match and holding it out to prove she still had a steady hand, and she still tattooed into the ‘80s. Happily, a lot of her flash and photos of her work survive—you can see it in the book. She was a true pioneer.

Visit Powerhouse Arena for more information on the 6 March 2014 panel discussion. "Bodies of Subversion" is now available in its third edition from Powerhouse books for $24. And visit Needles and Sins to keep up with Kakoulas. Lead image and final two of Jess Knight, middle three images include work by Roxx, Virginia Elwood and Stephanie Tamez.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should
Loading More...