Tattooing as Ritual

Modern tattooing by machine is a rite of passage. “They come in here nervous, fidgeting; we call them stallers. They’ll ask me questions. The wigglers, the ones that wiggle their feet while you’re doing the tattoo. But after you finish they’re all relaxed and all happy.” Coco explains, “It does something to them.” While not all bearers of tattoos feel their experience is a ritualistic one, Coco sees giving and receiving memorial tattoos as particularly powerful.

Coco works with a customer. Photo by Jennie Terman

Coco elaborates, “It takes a lot out of you. I don’t know if it’s working with the blood and puncturing the skin. For me to wind down, it takes me two to three hours after I finish tattooing—just to wind down, just for me to be okay. I don’t know what it is. They say that ‘Oh no, anybody can do a tattoo.’ But, for example, when I do portraits of people that passed away, and they’re realizing that they’re putting their mother’s face [on their body], they start bringing that pain to the surface, and I’m releasing it. It’s like, releasing what they were holding on to. And nine times out of ten, by the time I finish the tattoo, they’re crying. Why? Because now they get to see their mother or father’s face all the time, walking around with them. It’s like, they feel like their spirit is with them. It’s like the last cry. And we always become friends. I do one tattoo on someone and if it meant something to them, we’ll be friends for ten or twenty years. I’ve got a lot of tattoo customers that have only gotten one tattoo but they’re still my friends ten years later.”

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This sign on the wall of Nu Flava Ink articulates Coco’s philosophy. Photo by Johanna Medlin