Tattoo Art in Cuba

tattoo

Jasper Craven (Vice.com) writes about tattoo artists in Cuba, stressing that they make more than doctors and lawyers through their trade. Although sporting tattoos is nothing new in Cuba, Craven states that the tattoo resurgence is based on embracing cultural trends from abroad. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

Today, when Cuban Americans journey back to their native country for visits, they frequently come bearing gifts for friends and family, ranging from sunglasses to flat-screen televisions. Che Alejandro wants something else: tattoo magazines, ink, and needles. “Right now there are only a few people bringing tattoo supplies to us,” Che Alejandro, who is known as the godfather of the Cuban tattoo scene, told me. “You can’t get a license to import them, so they have to bring little things in luggage and sell them to you. Many times it’s not the best quality.”

All the equipment tattoo artists need is either illegal or unavailable in Cuba. Autoclaves, which sterilize tattoo needles, are banned. This has forced tattoo artists to improvise. They fashion makeshift machines from baskets, medical supplies, and pressure cookers. Being a tattoo artist in Cuba is hard. But it makes Che feel that he is expanding space for personal expression in a country where individuality has long been frowned upon. Tattoo supplies are hard to find, so Che has innovated. He draws designs from his skateboard and comic books. He makes his own needles, and when working to complete a larger, more intricate tattoo, he offers big discounts to customers. [. . .]

Cubans are embracing cultural trends from abroad more fervently than at any time in the last half century. It’s hard now to walk a block down the sun-soaked streets of Havana without spotting tattoos. In Cuba, tattoo has long been a dirty word. The stigma has remained potent. As recently as a few years ago, tattooed Cubans were not permitted on beaches. State-sponsored book fairs still refuse to stock international tattoo magazines. There are unofficial rules against employing tattooed people; some Cubans reported that tattooed people can’t get work in the airport. [. . .] Many of the young Cubans who go to Che Alejandro for tattoos know that getting inked can be stigmatizing, leading them to have trouble going to college or finding work.

Sosa Santa, another tattoo artist who works out of a dingy apartment in Old Havana told me, “I made my first tattoo machine. Now I give tattoos to all types of people. I give tattoos to cops.” Although tattoo artists operate on the margins of society, they make good money. Most Cubans working official, on-the-books government jobs earn only about $30 per month. “Being a tattoo artist, I can make more money than being in the government,” Sosa said. “The doctors and the teachers are supposed to make more than me, but they don’t.”

A tattoo artist can make more than most people make in a month from doing one tattoo. Customers find their artists by word of mouth, often asking tattooed friends for guidance. Recent economic reforms have legalized many forms of small business, from restaurants to aerobics studios, but tattoo parlors are not on the list.

Many of the most popular tattoos in Cuba are similar to those you see in Miami and New York. Men sport pinup girls or swirling, sharply defined tribals. Women favor flowers and claw marks. Dragons are popular. So are images of Jesus. Some older Cubans sport tattoos of the Cuban flag or of revolutionary leaders like Che Guevara. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.vice.com/read/in-cuba-tattoo-artists-make-more-than-doctors-and-lawyers

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