Color Outside the Lines

An interesting new documentary out on DVD this week explores tattooing from point of view of black artists, tattooing as cultural heritage, and the particular struggles they have faced in becoming established.

‘Color Outside the Lines’ asks black tattoo artists about their experiences getting started in tattooing, including their experiences of racism while trying to get apprenticeships, as well as the history of tattooing within the black community.

The film features prominent black female tattooist Jacci Gresham from New Orleans studio Aart Accent Tattoos in New Orleans. She started tattooing in 1976, and is credited in the film as being ‘the first black tattoo artist’. She is interviewed talking about the female experience, and how the tattoo world was “just waiting for women to get into it”, until they finally began to in the 1990s.

Jacci Gresham

Zulu of Zulu Tattoo in Los Angeles talks about what he hates about scratchers, notably that they are doing things “half-assed” to make quick money and are not trying to reach their full potential as artists.

Julia Alfonso, owner of West End Tattoo, explains why her studio became the first in Atlanta to employ an all-black staff. There are clips of all three artist interviews here as well as the trailer for the film here.

The documentary is the brainchild of Miya Bailey of City of Ink in Atlanta, and director Artemus Jenkins. Their aim was to explore the history of black tattoo culture, especially its origins in the south despite a heavily segregated climate there at the time. They also wanted to remove some of the stigma still attached to black tattooists, and educate people on how to choose an artist producing quality work.

“The black community has an overwhelming population of ‘scratchers’: untrained people with tattoo machines looking to make a fast buck. A person’s thirst to get inked often leads them to seek out a scratcher because they are sold on the cheap price and opportunity to get inked. More often than not the end result is a poor tattoo that many regret, can become infected or just looks terrible. This perpetuates the cycle of stigmas associated with the art form,” they said.

“There are dozens of black artists who are trained and highly skilled in any form of tattooing one could ask for. Once people watch this film we really want them to have a better understanding of their options and a deeper appreciation for the art form.”

‘Color Outside the Lines’ is out on DVD this week and you can buy it through this link.

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