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More than skin deep: tattoos, diversity and inclusivity
Tattoos are commonplace today. They’re a way we memorialise our past and how we remind ourselves of our values, triumphs and sometimes our failings.
Ink was once associated with society’s underbelly—but now tattoos adorn bodies across the societal spectrum. Despite this, some parts of the industry haven’t quite caught up with this newfound clientele.
Tattoo parlours, and those working within, can still feel unapproachable and unwelcoming for some. While trying to disagree with a cocky and overbearing artist can be daunting for the burliest and bravest among the straight community, it can be a whole other level for those who are openly queer.
“Tattoo shops can be intimidating places…I’m certainly aware of some poor treatment given to queer clientele,” said Alice Worley of Civic’s Freestyle Tattoo.
“Mostly this was made evident to these individuals by general feelings of othering; whether the tattooer just wouldn’t talk to them, or wouldn’t look them in the eye, just generally being awkward and clearly uncomfortable with tattooing a queer person. But occasionally there would be slurs and refusal of service thrown about.”
While we’re seeing more than just the ‘token female artist’ at parlours around Canberra today, there remains a long history of sexism.
“My mentor gave me a shot at an apprenticeship because he believed women work harder than men, plain and simple,” Alice recalled. “Though it was an amazing opportunity, it was not exactly a great environment for a naive 18-year-old.”
While still a male-dominated industry, Canberra’s scene continues to make headway with a stronger representation of female artists and the emergence of new studio Sisters Inked.
Founded by sisters Keshna and Mikaela Angelidis earlier this year, Sisters Inked aims to be a safe, friendly and welcoming place for all—but especially for those who might be apprehensive going into a more ‘traditional’ tattoo parlour.
“It can be very intimidating to enter those spaces,” said Keshna. “And in many ways, there’s a lot of vulnerability involved in getting tattooed, which is exacerbated for queer people.”
“I think it’s important to specifically and intentionally set up spaces to be safe and welcoming for queer and gender diverse people so that no one feels excluded from wearing art on their body or is uncomfortable in the process.”
If you’re looking for an inclusive tattoo parlour, Alice says one of the best things to look for is diversity.
“Diversity can be seen in the genders of the artists, the sexuality of the artists, or even any evidence of their involvement in and support of the queer community,” she says.
While Alice had a challenging start in the industry, Keshna had the opposite beginning.
“My personal experience as a woman in the tattoo industry has honestly been wonderful. I worked in hospitality prior to tattooing and that was a much more toxic environment. I can only speak for myself, but I’ve personally been treated with respect and kindness.”
Both women are—unsurprisingly—keen advocates of seeing more female and queer artists coming into the fold, but warn to come with plenty of grit.
“You’ll never get an apprenticeship without proving your artistic skill, so get together the most impressive portfolio you can produce. Points will always be given for a strong style of drawing and evidence of sketching pieces out to prove you haven’t traced other people’s work,” says Alice.
“I’d give anyone wanting to start tattooing the same advice: keep working on your artwork, create a portfolio and be prepared to work hard,” adds Keshna.
For any aspiring artists out there, Alice says it’s important to find a shop run by an artist.
“[Artists are] more likely to care about the quality of work than the profit. Money driven, non-tattooer owners are much more likely to push you too hard and make you start to tattoo full-time before you’re ready.”
Alice and Keshna’s top tips for getting a custom design you love at a tattoo parlour
Find an artist whose style you love—you’ll need to trust them and their process.
Tell them what you want (unicorn, rose, rainbow etc.). You can include a reference image.
Tell them where you want it.
Tell them the rough size.
Keep it brief.
Give them free reign to make something perfect—they want to produce something beautiful as much as you want to wear something beautiful for the rest of your life.