Darker skin has not been represented in the tattoo world for a long time. Brooklyn-based artist Tan Parker founded Ink the Diaspora to replace it.
I got my first tattoo done before going to college. I had a job at McDonald’s and I didn’t have to get permission from my parents when I was 14 years old, so I thought, “Yes, I’m going to get a tattoo.” It was very impulsive. Do you know the shoe brand Steve Madden? It was his logo from the early 2000s: a peace sign, a heart, and a stiletto – but I changed the stiletto to a slouchy boot as it was popular at the time. I remember that the tattoo artist called me before the appointment to clarify that this is what I wanted.
Since then that tattoo has been covered with something more meaningful: a family tree that represents each of my older siblings and my parents. The most meaningful tattoo I have, however, is a portrait of my grandmother on my right leg. My mother has the only picture of her. I am also getting my father’s mother tattooed on my left leg. This is my way of connecting with him because I never met my grandmother. Many of my tattoos are inspired by my being black; I have a Harriet Tubman tattoo, a buffalo soldier on one leg, a black cherub and black Jesus on my shoulder.
I started Ink the Diaspora in 2018 because I was not seeing people with my skin color getting heavily tattooed. I wanted to build a community where we could have a conversation about what is happening in the tattoo space. The Ink Diaspora has many faces, but it is primarily an archival resource on Instagram and a place to end the practice of tattooing. Due to colorism in the tattoo area, darker black and brown people are not represented. Or if so, we only see tattoos on a very specific type of black skin. There is very little diversity.
I also do consulting and tattoo-artist referrals for black tattoo collectors who are looking for a black artist. I want to be really honest about referrals, which can be difficult if I haven’t been to a certain state or city. So I tap into Ink the Diaspora Instagram and ask “Does anyone know the black tattoo artist at this place? Has anyone got a tattoo done by this person and enjoyed their experience?” This is my top priority. I am also a non-binary person, so I always try to refer to black trans tattoos. I want to give money back to my community, from whom I am inspired and inspired.
My next intention for Ink the Diaspora is to make silicone tattoo sheets in shades of brown, for darker skin. If you think about the tattooing process, it always starts with a white sheet of paper – showing you what a tattoo will look like from a white standpoint. Changing the medium and your visual starting point by doing something as simple as not using white paper as your canvas can change your creative process.
—As told to Amanda Demeku