After a not very encouraging and pleasant start in the fashion world, this smart artist from São Paulo has found light in tattoos and… six dogs! Here is her story.
Deborah, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in the north of São Paulo, in the midst of the chaos of a noisy city with a lot of cultural diversity, social contrasts and art on the walls. My parents didn’t have schooling, my mother cleaned houses all her life to support us. I’m the youngest of 3 children, even though life for us was never easy, I found shelter in art and skecktbooks since I was a child.
Tell me about your wild teenage years…
At 16 I left school to be a model, my parents saw this chance as an opportunity for a better future. I traveled to Singapore to model. I always felt the need to express myself and at that time I felt very attached to aesthetic fashion standards. I repressed my sexuality and although the life I had seemed nice to those who saw it from the outside I was really depressed.
So I decided to rebel and get my first tattoo, hidden from the agency and my parents as a way to express my true self.
This was my first contact with the tattoo world, which led to my dismissal from the agency! (laughs) I was lost and feeling very lonely at that time, so I decided to go back to Brazil. I swore to myself never again to insist on something that didn’t bring me happiness, that didn’t feed my being and that didn’t respect my authenticity. Even if life gave me challenges, I would fight to be who I wanted to be. That’s when my life started to change.
When did you become “obsessed” with this huge love for art that led you to be a tattoo artist and a painter?
I believe that over the years, even though I went through difficult times in fashion and felt really lonley, I never let go of art and neither did art let go of me. It was all I had! I loved photography, portraits, museums, all forms of street art poetry. I ended up producing a lot while traveling, from watercolors to pencil drawings. I explored and learnt a lot at that time. I felt that I lived in a world of plastic while modeling, where there were many masks and unhappy people. Art gave me that pure beautiful place where my truth could happen without limits.
And – as you told me before – you went back home…
Yeah. So when I returned to Brazil I started to exhibit my works of art in the streets with the encouragement of my older brother. They were very intimate works for me. It was like exposing a part of my being! I remember being very anxious about people’s reactions because it was the hidden private part of me in public for the very first time. At the end I was very welcomed by strangers’eyes, and I realized the power of true connection through art, how powerful and honest it can be. I realized how we can relate in so many aspects with others even through our wounds, expressed through paint, ink and brushes. I wasn’t making much money at the time, but for the first time in years I was truly happy and this, believe me, can’t be bought. (smiles) I am very grateful! I believe that was my turning point, when I decided: “Ok! I’ll be an artist as long as I breathe”.
Why do you call yourself “ninguém”? Am I wrong or does that term in Portuguese refer to an unknown and unimportant person?
Yes, you are correct. It refers to an unknown and unimportant person. I think for me it’s a constant reminder that we are a small grain of sand in the universe. And that one day this body ends and is born somewhere else… and that we can’t forget the magic of being alive!
I want to do important things but I don’t need to be important, to be some title, you know?
I feel that many people are disappointed by their egos and big titles but, honestly, titles are not that important. For me what counts is what we do with the time given to us. Under “ninguèm/nobody” I added: “Just a creative kid”. Because that’s how I really feel, an eternal child apprentice of this magical universe.
I read somewhere that they called your tattoos “abstract style portraits which incorporate intricate details and sketch line styles”. Do you agree with this description?
I never thought about where my work fits to be honest, it’s not programmed at all. It’s very free. I don’t like boxes so I’ll let them define it for me and I accept it with an open heart.
Who have been your teachers and guidelines? I’m not just talking about other tattoo artists who might have taught you something, but artists in general who really meant something to you.
I had the pleasure of meeting the Brazilian writer Fernanda Young while still alive. I was very young, I was starting to tattoo in São Paulo. I don’t know how we met, but we ended up getting to know each other. How she walked through life was very inspiring: a very smart, courageous woman, great mother and without a doubt one of my biggest inspirations. She wrote in a very direct and impactful way.
Another person who had a big impact on me is an artist called Jenny Saville, the way she portrays human flesh is very intense. I love her passionately.
You wear “Animal Rights” lettering on your neck and call yourself “Vegan for life.” That certainly gives you credit. When did you reach this level of awareness?
My first big cultural impact was when I made the trip to Singapore at 16, as I mentioned. At that time I didn’t know other cuisines besides Brazilian. The barbecue here is a very strong culture and when I moved to Asia I had to get used to not eating meat every day and drinking dairy products.
Then I started drinking soya milk, I learned to consume tofu, shimeji, grains etc. Everything changed! I was surprised by how my body worked better and at the time, to be honest, I didn’t understand the abuse of meat and dairy industries for example, it was something completely insipid for my survival in another continent. As time passed I started to study more about vegetarianism/veganism and I was shocked that I lived an unsustainable lifestyle that only made me sick. So it all made sense. My body was functioning better because I was eating better.
What happened next?
I had been vegetarian for 4 years and then transitioned to veganism together with my wife 5 years ago. During that time we got involved with sanctuaries that rescue animals from the cruel dairy and meat industry. We became very close, we even participated in some rescues in slaughterhouses. When I started to live more in this reality, in what really happens inside these dark places that hide everything from us, it all changed and my relationship with animals became deep and very meaningful. I believe that they are great teachers. They teach us love and forgiveness unconditionally.
I’m very happy to welcome my clients and be able to say that our atelier is vegan and they are very open to the subject!
We talk a lot about sustainability and how our habits affect our environment. Many customers have already become vegan and if they say they are inspired by us, I feel very honored. It’s a chain of good, that unites people and that fights for the end of oppression in all means. I’m very happy to be a part of it. The future is vegan.
Tell me about your private atelier in São Paulo. In what part of this Brazilian megalopolis should we look for it and what is the atmosphere inside your “little private kingdom”?
Our atelier/studio is in the south zone of São Paulo, close to the airport. It’s a very quiet and cozy neighborhood, a haven of silence and calm in the midst of the chaos of São Paulo.
I’ve always wanted to bring the client into a closer relationship, after all, we’re creating body art that will last forever.
So here we receive only 1 person a day – no rush for nothing, we talk a lot, have a vegan snack and play with our dogs during pain breaks. My clients call it dog therapy! (laughs) It’s the feeling of being at home after an exhausting day. That’s all we want, that you feel at home.
Have you already set on your agenda any major tattoo conventions or guest spots coming up in the next few months? Or are you just going to stay quiet in São Paulo?
So I’m a pet mother of 6 dogs! (laughs) It’s not that easy to travel around, I need a huge planning to do it. But for now I also need to be honest and say that I just love to be at home working surrounded by my dogs. So, I don’t have any plans to travel soon and I’m full booked till June 23. I’m also aware that I need to take my work outside of Brazil and I’m looking for an opportunity for maybe next year, but I’m still not sure where to start. The idea is still very far but it exists. So let’s see what happens…
And your last famous words are… ?
“Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results” (laughs)