Rosa Bluestone Perr on Redefining Feminism in The Tattoo World
Rosa Bluestone Perr was raised a feminist, and never strayed from the path of female empowerment. An artist raised by artists, she’s got creativity in her veins, and a passion for gender equality in her bones, to boot. It should come as no surprise, then, that she’s found a way to intersect the two on the daily—now, as a self-proclaimed feminist stick and poke tattoo artist, she’s breaking down the barriers of a male-dominated industry and is, as one client pointed out, “de-masculinizing the tattoo experience,” one piece at a time.
We sat down with Perr to talk feminism, tattoo artistry, and political activism as an artist (and yes, she’ll be at the Women’s March on Washington this Saturday). Peep the full interview below and get in touch with Perr via her Instagram for more info.
Tell us about how you got your start in tattooing. What drew you to stick and poke, specifically?
I have always been an artist, mostly a painter, and one day I gave myself a tattoo using a sewing needle and ink. It just sort of felt like another art form—new tool, new canvas. I had a negative experience with some men at a tattoo parlor and didn’t feel inspired to enter a parlor anytime soon. The first tattoo I gave myself was a tiny woman symbol. I remember feeling really empowered that I had this new piece of art on my body just for me. After that many friends wanted tattoos and trusted me to give them. Stick-and-poke tattoos felt more approachable to me as someone used to holding a paintbrush or a pencil, it was just a simple tool. I love the quality of stick and pokes, they are done by hand and they look like it. The result is like a drawing on skin.
How would you describe your style of tattooing and the process of collaborating with clients on ideas?
My style of tattoos are the kind of tattoos I would want on myself, simple and delicate. The client has their own ideas and the experience is very collaborative and I love that. The collaboration is a beautiful part of the process because the client should obviously have control over their tattoo but they also come to a specific artist for a reason. I don’t hold back if I think something wouldn’t look good, or would look better a different way or in a different location, that’s my job. I sometimes push the design the way I think it will look better and they will push me in a different direction and we communicate until we both love the design. A tattoo needs to be a completely consensual experience; I think sometimes people are too scared to speak up for themselves and end up with something different than they imagined. The collaborative design process ensures that the client loves the piece.
You’re a self-proclaimed feminist tattoo artist—can you elaborate on what that means, especially in a male-dominated tattoo industry?
A woman I tattooed once told me I am “de-masculinizing the tattoo experience,” and I loved that. I tattoo men but I would say 90% of my clients are women.
Women have been getting tattoos for a long time as a way to reclaim our bodies. Often women get tattoos over their mastectomy scars, or sexual assault survivors get tattoos to remind them they are strong. Tattoos are a way for us to express ownership over our bodies in a society that won’t even let women have control over our own healthcare. People feel empowered after getting a tattoo, and it’s a gift of self love, from you to you. Everyone always leaves feeling so happy and excited and I love being able to provide that joy and confidence.
The name of my business is representative of my identity as a feminist tattoo artist. I named my Instagram after my maternal family name. Bluestone is my middle name, and my mom’s last name (she never changed it when she married my dad). My mom has always been a strong feminist and I am so grateful to have had such a strong female figure in my life. The babe part of the name represents confidence and loving myself as a woman in a world that creates, and profits, from our insecurities.
More broadly, what kind of role do you think artists like yourself play in the national conversation right now about politics and gender?
We need to apply our skills to good causes. I was recently part of a fundraiser to raise money for the tribes and camps at standing rock at 8ball Community and through the tattoos I gave in one day, I was personally able to donate 1,000 dollars. On my own I would never be able to give that much money but by using my art I was able to make a bigger impact. That was amazing and is something important and tangible artists can do. I tattooed at THINX holiday market this past December and I designed a flash sheet with all kinds of feminist images such as ovaries and vulvas. Giving these tattoos to the badass women of THINX (which has done incredible work to remove the taboo of menstruation) was an honor. Artists make statements through their art and as a tattoo artist I can make political statements through art that lasts a lifetime and walks around in the world.
How do you feel about 2017? Any New Year’s Resolutions or goals you can share?
I am worried about 2017; I hope it flies by along with 2018, 2019, and 2020. The political climate of the world is ugly right now. But the silver lining is more people are energized and waking up to the injustices that are deeply ingrained in America’s founding. Hopefully from here on we pay more attention to what is going on around us and fight for what is right. I don’t really make new year’s resolutions but my goals would be to become a more engaged citizen and toss aside feelings of despair or thoughts that “I can’t make a difference.” As a woman I have a lot to lose but as a white person I have a lot of privilege and it is the job of white people to recognize our privilege and work to dismantle white supremacy. We can all make a difference and we can all do better.
What’s next for you, tattooing or otherwise?
This weekend I am driving down to the Million Women March with my roommates, which is about more than women’s rights; it’s about racism and police brutality and the racial inequities of the criminal justice system and environmental justice and climate change and health care and LGBQT equality. You cannot have one without the other. Gender justice is racial justice is economic justice is environmental justice. Hopefully that is just the beginning of the fight for social justice in 2017 and beyond. These are going to be hard years but through my life and my work I plan to keep spreading the message of self love and empowerment. We need to fight hard and love hard. I also hope to keep being able to do what I love and to grow my business and keep tattooing the amazing, smart, beautiful, strong women who support me and my work.
Images courtesy of Emma Banks
Stay tuned to Milk for more feminists who slay.