I’d like to share a conversation with you that I recently had with Filip (Leu), who is a great friend of mine besides being a globally renowed tattooist. 

By chance we happened to watch an episode of an American TV program – one of the many programs dedicated to tattooing that are watched by thousands of viewers every day on YouTube – in which a 20-something guy goes into a tattoo shop and asks to get a Katrina tattooed all over his face like a mask.

The guy shows some of the tattoos he’s got, talks about his passion, and then settles down on the tattoo bed. The tattooist feels honored to do this kind of piece, and gets to work on the requested tattoo without any hesitation. The video continues, and after some excited laughter and a break due to the enormous pain this guy has to endure, we come to the end. Here we see the tattooist, who visibly expresses a mix of both agitation and euphoria, hand a mirror to the guy. The reflection we see in the mirror leaves us speechless. This guy no longer has a human face; he’s been transformed (though I feel like saying disfigured), and is unrecognizable. His eyes are surrounded by black circles and his cheeks display classic Katrina decorations.

Miki Vialetto
Miki Vialetto

The tattooist and client hug and kiss each other emotionally, absolutely radiant about what has just gone down. But it doesn’t stop there. Because shortly after this, we watch the guy’s Mom enter the shop impatiently to see her son… with hands on her heart and tears of joy for all the beauty. Mother and son leave the shop hugging one another, happy to return to their day-to-day lives. A day in life… And that’s how the episode ends.

Filip and I felt shocked and overwhelmed by what we’d just seen. So that kind of piece – which should require a series of lengthy meetings between the tattooist and client in order to understand the client’s motivations and provide explanations in preparation for what will happen – is considered in the same way as any other small tattoo that the average walk-in client asks for upon entering a shop? So neither that guy nor the tattooist realized what they were actually doing? Really? In one day, in just one tattoo session, that guy changed his life forever. There’s no going back. And how will the real world outside of this lively tattoo shop welcome that person?

People talk a lot about tattoos and discrimination, saying that tattoos still aren’t accepted and are looked down on by a lot of folks. Both Filip and I are tattoo collectors. For thirty years now we’ve covered our bodies in ink, always studying and trying to understand which steps we should take and which places we should get tattooed (on the body, but also where – which tattoo shops). Both Filip and I are stunned – me as a collector, and he as a tattooist – by the superficiality with which some people treat tattooing nowadays.

Tattooing is twisted, ridiculed, and made monstrous by so many people who prioritize the WOW factor over their very own lives.

The editorial was originally published on Tattoo Life magazine (March/april 2020 issue)