Body Art

In preparation for my trip to Cuba this past July I combed through magazine and news articles on the millennials of Cuba. Being one myself, I figured where they were in Cuba was where I wanted to be.

La Marca (The Brand in Español) is La Habana’s first tattoo parlor. After reading through Margaret Akin’s article on the new branding shop I knew that I had to visit the studio and gallery. She writes how the “project that is primarily seeking to validate tattooing as an art form, from a new, genuinely Cuban perspective.”

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Fresh Ink.

All business in Cuba are state run, so tattoo parlors in Cuba sit in a kind of limbo since there is no official tattoo license. But, as Andrea Rodriquez of the Associated Press writes, La Marca has “never had any trouble with the state despite their lack of a license explicitly permitting tattooing.”

Within my first week of arriving in La Habana, I and one of my friends in the program went straight to La Marca in neighborhood of Habana Vieja. We flipped through their display books trying to figure out what we wanted. La luna y el sol have always been meaningful for me and I knew I wanted to have them etched somewhere on my body. When I came across a sun and moon design I immediately decided on it. I talked with artist David, and after some initial language barrier (my Spanish is terrible and was made worse by my anxiety of getting new ink) he set to work designing a piece for me.

Tattooing has significance in many cultures, such as the Polynesians, and later European mariners who appropriated the customs of indigenous people they had encountered. Think sailor Jerry tattoos. While sailors are the most synonymous with tattoos in the Western world, they stem from a much longer history.

La Marc is owned by a couple, one of those owners is a woman. When I visited the shop it seemed to be mostly a boy’s club. However, there are more women tattoo artists and ladies with ink-your author being one of them; this wasn’t my first tattoo.

Beverly Yuen Thompson in her book Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women and the Politics of the Body cites that many theorists considered the body to be a “cultural text.”[1] She goes on to examine how some women have tattoos that are based in their heritage, like one Cubana who despite her family’s disapproval of tattoos in general, appreciated that teh tattoo’s representation of the virgin.[2]

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Altar to La Regla

In the lobby of the tattoo shop they had an altar to The Virgin, or Yemayá. Toys and other favors were left as tribute. Here I saw the merging of Afro-Cuban religiosity with contemporary body art. I wanted to leave Cuba with some art, and I did; some of it happened to be on my skin.

 

[1] Thompson, Beverly Yuen. ““I Want to Be Covered”: Heavily Tattooed Women Challenge the Dominant Beauty Culture.” In Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women and the Politics of the Body, 35-64. NYU Press, 2015.

[2] Thompson. 54.

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