“Not while you’re living in this house!” Inspired as I was by Herman Melville’s character Queequeg, the tattooed harpooner from Moby-Dick, I wanted one not as an homage to the South Pacific gods he worshipped, but to memorialize the times of my life against a future when they might not matter anymore. My mom disagreed. After I moved out, an artist friend with a needle wrapped in thread gave me my first tattoo. Later, I showed it to my mom. “Hey, that’s pretty nice,” she said. Since then, there’s been no bigger supporter of my 30-plus tattoos than my mother.
Those who give and get tattoos, not to mention the culture that surrounds the art, never fail to surprise. Read on as today’s Daily Dose explores that world in all its complexity.
Between reality TV shows, magazine spreads, Instagram posts and more, you might be tempted to imagine that tattooing is just some frivolous, first-world way to ward off boredom. You’d be wrong. Tattoos are increasingly talismans of things much more serious. In the case of Italy’s Alfredo Meschi, that means protesting animal cruelty — 40,000 times over. The vegan “artivist” uses his skin as an unforgettable canvas, confronting issues of sexual violence, environmental pollution, refugees and more.
Abrahamic religions all maintain some sort of prohibition against injecting the skin with permanent marks. The taboo is meant to discourage disfiguring God’s creation — not to mention that 2,000 years ago, using needles to shoot ink into your skin might have resulted in an untimely exit from the planet. But flash-forward to now and some smart folks in Egypt have a way around the prohibition: tattoos that are not permanent. Which sort of seems to be beside the point, but at least after 18 months or so there’s no need to endure having your ill-considered tattoo lasered off.
They’re called “111” tattoos and they’re unmissable: three lines on the wearer’s face. For California’s Indigenous tribes, they’re a symbol of heritage and power from a past that’s been marginalized for centuries — and dismissed outright by the U.S. government. Through an awareness campaign and even by tattooing people herself, artist Heidi Lucero is bringing them back to revive the Indigenous tradition — and to prevent a cultural erasure.
You find front-line defenders in the strangest places. In this case, at an event called “Tattoos for Triumph,” designed to raise awareness of and fight back against human trafficking. It was started by a husband-and-wife team of tattoo artists who’d discovered that female victims are often brought into studios to get “branded” by their traffickers. What did they do about it? They organized tattoo benefit events to raise money and awareness — and offer free cover-up tattoos to survivors — and to help break the chain of pain involved in the business of human trafficking.
Tag this one as a misguided move: A super PAC supporting Republican Sen. John Cornyn in his reelection campaign in Texas tried to tattoo-shame his Democratic opponent by painting her as a radical. The problem? MJ Hegar is an Air Force veteran whose helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, leaving her with scars from shrapnel wounds — which she covered with tattoos that memorialize her service to the country.
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Would you believe Thomas Edison designed the first-ever tattoo machine? Feast your eyes on this breakthrough electric pen and much more at the Daredevil Tattoo Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The place, of course, doubles as a tattoo parlor while packing in a century’s worth of ink history.
While judging someone else’s tattoo treasure as trash might seem unkind, any tattoo of any media figure is unlikely to age well. But who are we to judge, specifically, Nikki Patterson of Scotland, who was recognized by Guinness World Records for having the most tattoos of the same musician? Just … Eminem? Really? The superfan has inked a 16th portrait since securing the record — and apparently is planning to get a bunch more.
3. And Just In Case
Have you heard this? People are having tattoos removed, not because they regret getting 16 tattoos of Eminem, for example, but to make room for more tattoos. While there’s a certain kind of cyclical magic to this, and it’s bound to keep tattoo artists fat and happy, it seems to defeat the purpose. But again, we don’t judge. And if you need to have some removed? New “rapid acoustic pulse” technology is making it easier and quicker to do so, dramatically cutting down the number of appointments you’ll need with a laser to scrub the skin clean.
For OZY’s #ResetAmerica campaign, we want to hear from new and diverse perspectives. Today, meet the mind behind Netflix’s new indie hit. Hand-picked by Ava DuVernay, Merawi Gerima is one of the fastest-rising stars in the filmmaking world. His new movie, Residue, is about gentrification and policing that meets the moment. Watch now to learn about this passionate filmmaker who is bringing Black stories to life. Tell us what you think of this rising star on social by using #ResetAmerica.
Is it rumor or is it real? When it comes to invisible tattoos, and they are a thing, there’s only one way to know: Get yourself a black light. It starts with glow-in-the-dark ink and ends with you being the hippest person in the club … when going to a club is something you can do again.
Some people prefer anchors. Some crazy cursive. But if your thing is animals, specifically those that swim? There’s a place where the artist on hand shares your obsession. Meet Drew Wilson, who inks freshwater fish with faithful detail and eye-catching radiance. He’s done plenty of Japanese koi designs but his showstopper is a “troutnado” — a trout wrapped in a brilliant, multicolored whirlwind.
There’s a tattoo artist in Brussels who specializes in tattooing people’s palates. Which is a great place to get a tattoo if you’ve covered the rest of your body — and you have a really, really high pain threshold. “It wasn’t especially pleasant,” says the Belgian, who had the roof of his own mouth tattooed. Ready to give it a shot? It’ll be like having a secret — between you and your dentist.
4. Kanye? Oh. Let Him Wait
Jean-Luc Navette didn’t recognize Kanye West. His girlfriend had to clue him in. And even then, the rap star still had to wait to work on a tattoo with Navette, who was busy working on a book of his art, a pastime that sometimes pulls him away from tattooing for months at a time. The book is now available, so after paging through its dark, somber, Victorian-inspired images, you can get in line for something truly original and only slightly disturbing.