Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Marked For Life: All Female Artist Convention

    Despite the existence of tattooing in ancient cultures, and the consistency of existence of tattooing throughout human civilization, tattooing is neither considered a fine art nor taken seriously by the arts community. The marginalization of tattooing as an art form—despite upsweeps in popular culture for the past few decades—was, until recently, echoed by tattoo artists: mostly male, mostly a member of a culture’s dominant racial group—in America, this meant white males with a working class economic back ground. The general cliché of the tattoo artist was a cynical male with a former life in the military whose clientele like as not had back grounds that were more motorcycle club than country club. A few decades ago, this began to change when the sublime beauty of Japanese tattooing, the precise power of Maori tattooing, and a general acceptance of a non-European based aesthetic gained more currency, literally, within the arts community.

    Also gaining slow, slow, glacially slow acceptance in the arts community were women as artists. Due, no doubt, to second wave, seventies feminism, women artists –-albeit still tainted by tokenism in their acceptance—became more popularly visible, gained some literal currency themselves. Yet, for tattooing, women artists were few, comparatively, to the number of male practitioners. 

   Now, for the past seventeen years, there has been a convention that features all women tattoo artists, held every January in Orlando, Florida, and called Marked For Life. Those who have attended any other tattoo convention might be familiar with the scene: the buzz of tattoo needles, the smell of soap, lots of people dressed in rock n roll/biker/sport-star finery. The convention’s organizer, Deana Lippens, through electronic messaging, said that she started the convention “to promote women in the industry, because when I started there were not many women who had broken through the male tattoo artist stigma.”  Deana had been a tattoo artist in her own right for quite awhile, “ I was doing conventions for ten years […] and only a small number of women artists used to work them. I was the only woman in Amsterdam one year, when Hanky Panky was running it.” In addition to encouraging and supporting women in the tattoo arts, Deana Lippens wanted to change the idea of just “Bikers and military people getting tattoos” to a convention where “the whole family” is welcome.

   Although the convention has featured and supported the work of women artists, Deana says that “the guys wanted to come and support the women […] so there were guys in drag. Now, if they rent a booth [the men] have the choice to work in drag or wear pink in support.” Nonetheless, convention goers for the past not-quite-two decades, have been treated to some of the best women artists in the world, assembled in one convention site for three days. The atmosphere is entirely different from that of other conventions: women talk to each other—to women previously unknown to each other as if everyone is at a very large family reunion and might be third cousins—and they are hard-working, pragmatic, talented artists who are making their art their life’s wages.

    This is a different arts community than even the memory of days starting out. Deana Lippens says that “back in the day, there were no women tattooing, there were no front girls or women hanging out at the tattoo shops.” Also citing issues of safety, Deana says “You couldn’t get tattoo equipment like today. They didn’t sell pre-made needles, you had to solder your own; if you didn’t know how to, you didn’t tattoo. It’s a much safer day and age for people to be tattooed as long as they go to a trained professional.” Seeing the convention she will host for the 18th year as also a way “to introduce sterility to the public and show tattoos in a different light”, Deana’s references to her life’s career repeat terms such as “industry” and “profession” , an interesting shift from the usual words used by artists, who may get a snort and sneer from the general public at even the concept of an artist’s creations as “work”.  In the case of the women tattooists who attend Marked For Life, a few points become indubitable and obvious: that these women have considerable artistic talent, that they are more pragmatic with their business practices than one prosaically encounters, that the technical aspects of health practice and artistic rendering are of a consistent high quality among everyone in attendance, and that the convention attendees are getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wear a work of art by one of the best artists in the world.

   Of course, most of the rest of the country is at its winter’s worst in January, and it ought not to take much to induce anyone to spend a weekend in Orlando then—where even the coldest days don’t bring ice. For anyone with a commitment to the artists, to women artists, to tattooing, this convention is a must-do for sure. 

Check out this link to the convention:

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