Activist, writer, designer and all around tattoo phenom Heidi Minx has spent tireless years working for social justice. She founded the non-profit Built on Respect, which is "dedicated to raising human rights awareness through journalism and hands on action." One of the organization's projects is the creation of a video series that tells the stories behind the tattoos of ex-political prisoners in the exile community in Dharamsala.
The series, "Tattoos and Human Rights Awareness," includes videos like the one above of Palden Gyatso, who was tattooed as a young monk in Central Tibet. [His tattoos were later removed by Chinese prison guards during the revolution.]
Heidi further discusses the project on Care2:
In the three years that I have been coming to the Tibetan community of Dharamsala in India, I've been quietly observing the tattoos of the people here.Read more from Heidi on her Care2 blog, her column for The Huffington Post, and her Inked for a Cause blog.
Last month, I put out a call for skull and heart tattoos for a spread in my next tattoo book, and here's just a taste of what I received: These Tibetan skulls above tattooed by Bill Canales of Full Circle Tattoo in Ocean Beach, Ca.
I know. Amazing, right?!!
See full size images of the tattoos on Flickr here and here. As an added bonus, the backpiece was documented by Michael Flores, director and cinematographer for Mad Media. Check his video montage below or watch it on Vimeo here. [The Kings of Leon song is an inside joke.]
Naturally, I had to find out more about these two pieces created on Bill's clients David and Denny. The images were submitted by Full Circle shop manager and Bill's apprentice James Tran -- who has a kick-ass blog -- so I asked James to tell me more about the tattoos. Here's what he said:
"Both David and Denny are good friends of mine, and after these tattoos, they became close with Bill. The pieces had started in late March of 2009, and both guys wanted to get their pieces done as soon as possible. Because we had planned this venture out a few months ago, Bill was able to schedule David and Denny to be tattooed two weeks between each session with a few sessions only a week a part. David originally wanted a Tibetan skull, while Denny requested a dragon back piece. Yet they also wanted a different element to be included in their work. After some thought and consideration, they had decided to get both a dragon and a Tibetan skull -- of course done differently.
I'm grateful to James, Bill, David and Denny for sharing this work with us. More artist profiles from reader submissions to come.
When I decided to dedicate my right sleeve to the history of Israel and the Jewish people, I chose my artist based upon unusual criteria. Not only was Yoni Zilber a talented tattooist with a detailed style, capable of a variety of different looks, but, also, he was born in the Motherland. He was a Jew! And, an Israeli Jew at that!
I considered that my sittings would be a religious experience of sorts, but Yoni is quiet and reflective. He doesn't bustle with the energy of the Tel Aviv nightlife and, while he has the sarcasm and dry wit of most Israelis, he is far more serene and measured in his approach.
Sitting with Yoni was a contemplative experience, a meditation in mind-body connection more reminiscent of the Tibetan influences coloring Yoni's work than of any specific time or place.
At Brooklyn Adorned where he works, he attempts to describe the world of tattoo to my very narrow mind, specifically exploring the what life is like for a Jew who tattoos.
You are one of the more well known Israeli tattoo artists -- do you think that people seek you out for that reason sometimes?
I think so. I do get to work a lot when I'm going to Israel.
Do you ever get asked to do Jewish or Israeli themed tattoos?
Yes, I work in New York, and it happens more here than in Israel. [laughs]
Do you ever get asked to do racist or other stuff? How do you handle that?
If it is for racist reasons, I'll refuse. But, if you want a swastika on your Buddha cloth, I'll do it.
Is Israeli stuff your style or do you tattoo other themes?
Tibetan art is my main focus and the style I want to tattoo as well.
What is tattoo culture like in Israel?
Israel is a hot country and it's more of a beach culture so, mostly black & gray tattoos, but no specific style. Its influence comes from both from Europe and the States.
You have traveled the world. Where is the tattoo culture most prevalent? The weakest?
I think here in America it is strongest. There is no place in the world that you walk on the streets and, in some neighborhoods, there are more tattooed people walking on the streets than un-tattooed people. Not sure where it is the weakest, maybe Antarctica?
How do you increase your skill sets? What do you study? Who do you study with?
Traveling and working with different artists help. Tattoo conventions and just hanging out with other tattooers helps too. I'm studying Tibetan art now with master painter Pema Rinzing.
Is any of your own ink Jewish or Israeli?
I am not sure but my black ink turns white on Shabbat. [laughs]
I mean, do you have any Jewish related themes in your tattoos?
My right arm was done in Israel, but there is no Jewish meaning behind it.
Does your ink represent your tattoo style?
I do have lot of Tibetan art tattooed on me and some styles from the Far East.
If you weren't doing ink, what would you be doing?
A rabbi. Definitely a rabbi.
You can book an appointment with Yoni Zilber at Brooklyn Adorned.