Cupid's Corner: Body Art & The Human Canvas
Did you know a tattoo needle punctures the skin roughly 100 times per second?
In Context, the two jabs for the COVID-19 vaccine now seems like a joke, but the world of tattooing in a pandemic is no laughing matter. We all know the gig economy has taken some hits and the Cultural Industries have become tidal, filled with highs and lows in an unpredictable cycle. For this week's Cupid's Corner I sat down with two body art specialists to see how they have been surfing the economy eroding waves of the pandemic.
Heers Ink: Illustrator| Tattoo Artist| Creative Mind
Janine Heers (@heers_ink) is a Swiss national that slices her years into 6-month pieces where she spends roughly half a year in Barbados and the other half in Switzerland. She is a graduate of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and possesses a Bachelor of Arts in Scientific Visualization. If you are wondering what that is, it means she creates incredibly detailed medical illustrations for doctors, hospitals, and their associated publications. Her work is so impressive it won her the Guliola Gamberini Award in 2015.
You can find her medical illustrative work on her website by clicking here
Janine is definitely someone who lives through what she loves and loves the life she lives. She is a painter who specializes in still life oil paintings and even taught at a Fine Art school for two years. In addition to this, she is a collector of West African Voodoo art and skulls along with taxidermy.
Art is not just something she does, it is who she is.
"Tattoos and body art are another form of self -expression. For me as a visual person it is another layer, like fashion, make up, jewelry, but obviously more permanent and often times with deeper meaning for yourself."
This meaning can extend beyond oneself, as tattoos can be used to identify affiliations, mark achievements, or be a symbol of beauty. This form of self-expression is further reinforced by her ethos to not copy and paste work but instead create custom art pieces and unique designs. When asked about the demographic that frequents her shop she had this to say:
"I also tattoo a lot of females, I figure they feel more comfortable around a female artist. The experience of getting a tattoo is very intimate, it’s very personal and physical. However, once the artist makes you feel comfortable, gender shouldn’t matter."
Janine is one of the few women in the tattoo culture here in Barbados and stated that the present tattoo culture is very reminiscent of that of the US. This statement was of great interest to me because the second artist I interviewed said our present tattoo practice is on par with the United Kingdom. I've always believed the culture of the Caribbean was a hybrid of its colonial European past and modern-day Americanisation, and I found it ironic these two territories would emerge in a question about "tattoo culture" which is not even fully developed here in Barbados.
Something that is also developing is Janine's craft as she has only been tattooing for 3 years and is self-taught! She does owe her rapid development to her fine art and illustrative background but stated there was a steep learning curve at the beginning. Fortunately for her, she was able to practice with some of her friends and overtime began to attract clients that wanted art pieces that fell into her genre of artwork.
You can find more of her tattoo artwork at @heers_ink on Instagram.
Tribe of Leb - Tattoos, Piercings & Body Modification
Caleb Straker owner of Tribe of Leb is a Barbadian tattoo artist and piercer who also does body modification. His shop is conveniently placed in Bridge Street Mall, Bridgetown which is a nest of activity.
With over ten years in the game, he is a well-known face on the tattoo scene and is easily accessible to many demographics. Despite this, he stated his main demographic is younger people as some older people still find the notion of tattoos a bit taboo.
Similar to Heers_Ink, he sees tattoos as a form of self-expression and a way to commemorate events. However, he also does piercings and body modification when requested.
Some of his piercing work can be seen below.
You can follow him on Instagram @Tribeofleb
There is a beautiful duality between these two artists. Caleb has been trained by mentors and has experimented with different styles for over a decade whereas Janine took the self-taught approach and is relatively new. Caleb is in the heart of the city and extremely visible amongst Barbadians while Janine is a niche service tucked away on the West Coast of the island. They both have made a living doing what they love and they both have been impacted by the pandemic in some way.
Surviving The Wave
Pre-pandemic, tattoo services were already a luxury product. They were something people got when they had disposable income and spent days, weeks sometimes even years thinking about getting before they made the leap. The loss in revenue in other sectors meant many individuals did not have this disposable income and bookings slowed for a bit for many tattoo artists.
Tribe of Leb mentioned he had to postpone bookings with the repeated lockdowns and Heers_ink stated difficulties in working in a COVID environment. However, her concerns were not just financial as she said in our discussion:
"My main problem was being able to get inspiration and staying focused during this time. On an emotional or psychological, level it was really difficult and it has affected me greatly. When your mental head space is clouded it is hard to create…"
An unexpected positive emerging from the pandemic was the improvement in hygienic practices by the mass population as tattoo artists already sanitized and cleaned regularly. Tribe of Leb stated the pandemic has enhanced his operation standards with respect to sanitization. Hopefully, after the pandemic, we will continue to keep these practices in place.
Both artists strive to keep improving and honing their craft and be the best at what they do.
You can check out their work in the respective galleries below.