Results tagged “Margot Mifflin”
Yesterday, the Miss America pageant crowned its first beauty queen of Indian descent, which led to an onslaught of racist tweets by those who take beauty pageants seriously. "America's Choice," as decided by an online vote, was not the winner, but instead, a pretty blonde from Kansas who represented "American Values": she's a sergeant in the National Guard, she's a hunter who can skin a deer herself, and she's tattooed.
Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail strutted across the stage with a large-scale rib tattoo of the serenity prayer, which she says she used to recite when bullied as a child. Her tattoos were a big part of her platform, which centered around "empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers." She told ABC News:
"What I really want is just to inspire people by showing my tattoos," she said. "That's a bold move! And it's risky, it could very well cost me the crown. And if it does, I just want people to see that you can step outside of the box, you can be yourself. And I can only hope that it inspires them to do the same."She didn't win the crown, but she won a lot media attention for being the first Miss America contestant to openly display her tattoos. Or at least that what the headlines touted.
But Teresa Vail was not the first tattooed beauty queen. It was Betty Broadbent, shown above on the cover of the first edition of Margo Mifflin's "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo" (a must-have book). This cover photo captures the iconic circus attraction as she made history competing in the first televised beauty pageant at the 1937 World's Fair. As Margot Mifflin notes, "She knew that as a tattooed contestant she didn't stand a chance of winning, but she gladly reaped the free publicity." The same could be said for Miss Kansas.
I'm not a fan of beauty contests. Despite the fact that Miss Kansas has a degree in chemistry and speaks Chinese, she still had to put on stilettos and a bikini to put forth her "empowerment" platform. But I am a fan of those working in some way to stir a little trouble, to change up beauty ideals. So good on Miss Kansas for following in Betty Broadbent's high heels.
This Saturday, April 13, at 2pm, Margot Mifflin and I will be at the Brooklyn Museum presenting "Art, Sex, and Power: Tattooed Women Today" in the Forum of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (4th floor). The event is free with museum admission -- and it is an incredible museum -- so it's worth the trip all around.
Our talk and visual presentation center around how women's tattooing relates to sexuality, fashion, fine art, and feminism. These themes are wonderfully explored in Margot's absolute must-have book, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. [For more info, check my review of the book's latest edition and interview with Margot in this post.] These themes have also been explored on this blog, particularly in the context of sex and beauty. On Saturday, we'll spend an hour chatting about everything from the reclamation of one's body, tattooed women stereotypes, the rise of the tattoo model as career choice, women tattooers of yesterday & today, and much more.
And we really want to hear your opinions as well, so all those attending are encouraged to participate in the discussion. I also encourage everyone to share your thoughts on women and tattoo culture in the link to this post in our FB group page, or Tweet at me.
And would love to see you Saturday!
There has been some exciting buzz surrounding tattooed women, and it hasn't been in the form of the latest celebrity regret or the alt-model home wrecker. It has been about our tattoo godmothers, the women who bore full colorful body suits and traveled beyond their kitchens. The ones who first picked up a machine and had men lining up at the door to pay them for art and nothing more. The original riot grrls of the early 20th century whose impact could be seen on the skins on feminist punk rockers in the eighties to the tattooed lawyers of today.
That media buzz has come from the recently released third edition of Margot Mifflin's Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.
Tattooed women, clothed or not, are a sexy subject. The New Yorker's feature on the book and its accompanying slideshow has been posted on Facebook over 20,000 times. The link to Flavorwire's article and slideshow has been messaged to me from all over the world. Even my mom, who logs onto the Internet only when reruns of Murder She Wrote are preempted, sent me this The NY Times link from yesterday. [Mom: "Oh look, a book on tattooed women. You should look into it." Me: "Um, mom, I'm in it."]
Being in this book is important to me on many levels. Margot released the first version of Bodies of Subversion in 1997. At that point, I only had two small tattoos and was hungry for any information I could find on the art. I searched tirelessly for tattoo tomes. There were plenty of references for indigenous tattooing and books that told the stories of the men who brought back tattoo souvenirs from tribes, and also Japanese masters, to America and Europe. At the local bookstore, there were records of oral histories from gritty tattooers who worked on sailors streaming into port. There were no records on the women who did the same, at least not exclusively on the subject. The information could be found in the Women's Studies section of university libraries but was conspicuously absent outside of academia.
Margot brought the discussion of tattooed women into popular discourse -- from sideshow attractions to Victorian society women to women tattooers who struggled in the 70s and 80s to change tattoo culture, such that young tattooers today can say that being a woman is a help not a hinderance to their profession.
The new edition of Bodies of Subversion includes most of the wonderful information she provided in the first edition. It also talks about how today's explosive popularity of tattooing has changed perceptions of tattooed women--but also how a lot has stayed the same. During the course of her research for this edition, Margot and I chatted a lot on this. Upon completion of the book, I wanted to know how she felt about all the new material she had acquired and written about.
Our Q&A is as follows:
What is the highlight of Bodies of Subversion for you personally?
The highlight is the new chapter on the new millennium--especially the section on the artists themselves. The general quality of tattooing has improved so vastly since my first edition was published in 1997 that the sheer volume of good work was a pleasure to see. My task was happily impossible: there was no way I could have included all the women worthy of coverage; I had to pick a few dozen to spotlight in order to illustrate certain developments or trends or techniques.
Any particular aha(!) moments? Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you?
I was surprised at the number of lesbians artists working now. Virtually no one I interviewed for the first edition identified as a lesbian. This time, five or six women talked about it and I was surprised to hear that even in this historically male dominated and even historically macho profession, lesbians are not getting a lot of attitude from other tattooists or customers--even outside of New York and San Francisco.
What was the most difficult part to get info on?
The appalling dearth of black women artists--even 30 years after Jacci Gresham became a household name in the tattoo world. It's not like there aren't tons of tattooed black women--half my black students are tattooed. There are just so few women doing it, and it was difficult to nail down the reasons without having access to artists who could talk about their experiences. Jacci Greshman helped me, and a couple of artists in particular I found, Kimberly Williams in New York and Alex Smith (from Chicago),were very thoughtful and articulate on the subject, and ultimately helped me theorize it.
Tell us about the greatest change between this edition & the first volume.
Kat Von D. If you had told me in 1997 that within 10 years a woman would be the single most famous tattooist in the world, I would have laughed. Back then, women artists were just struggling to make a living and happy to get some media coverage and respect.
The draw to tattoo culture -- what was it for you?
It grew out of my interest in visual art. I don't see how you can be engaged with fine art or design and not have some interest in tattooing--especially as it's evolved in the past decade and because of the fact that you can't avoid seeing it every day. In my opinion, this is a huge cultural blind spot for most visually literate people I know. Tattooing is a fascinating and technically difficult art that's layered with sociological and anthropological meaning. Sure, most of what you see is awful (which some would argue is also true for contemporary art), but you have to consider what's happened to it in the hands of the people who are bringing a more sophisticated design sensibility to it and propelling it beyond the fixed iconography of its folk legacy--there's something very interesting and radical happening there.
I can write a thousand more words on this exceptional book, but you must read it for yourself. You can purchase Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo for just $15 on Amazon.com.
Photo from Amelia Klem Osterud's "The Tattooed Lady: A History"
Inspired by the Ladies, Ladies Art Show, today's holiday gift guide post features books that celebrate tattooed ladies through history. These titles have all been mentioned here before but worth repeating for those who haven't scooped them up yet.
* The Tattooed Lady: A History by Amelia Klem Osterud is a beautiful hardcover that explores the lives of tattoo's godmothers, complete with fascinating narratives and photos dating back to the 1880s. We wrote about its release last November, and it still sits close to my desk for reference. For more info, check out Amelia's blog.
* Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin remains a classic. From sideshow ladies to prominent female tattoo artists, the book looks at how tattoo culture has changed & the roles women have played in it. It features great stories and images as well. Margot's latest, The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, is also an interesting read.
* The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women by tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak is a scholarly book on the role of women as tattooists in many indigenous cultures, with over 250 photos & illustrations. Lars has a new book out called Kalinga Tattoo, which is so gorgeous it warrants its own post. That's coming up.
* Madame Chinchilla's Electric Tattooing by Women 1900-2003 is a yearbook of women tattoo artists over a century. It's not a fancy book but it is a Who's Who of Tattoo up until 2003 with quotes from each artist.
* On the fiction front, check out Tattoo Artist: A Novel by Jill Ciment -- a story about a New York artist who is marooned in the South Pacific and eventually becomes a revered tattooist among the Tu'un'uu people at the turn of the century. It then flashes forward, 30 years later, when she returns as a heavily tattooed woman to New York. A fun read.
If you have your own favorites, feel free to share them in the comments.
Considering one of my favorite tattoo texts is Bodies of Subversion by Margot Mifflin, I'm excited to pick up Margot's latest book: The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman
... so much so that I'm trying to rush my To Do list before I leave for Greece Wednesday in hopes I can catch her reading tomorrow night at the Book Court in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn at 7PM.
Once I get my hands on it, I'll do a review; meanwhile, here's a taste from the description:
"In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures.
The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own.
She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.
Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman's friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois--including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society--to her later years as a wealthy banker's wife in Texas.
Oatman's blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home."
Pick up your own copy at Amazon.com here.