Tattoos, Body Art and Female Domination (Print Issue 174)

By Emily Jade Ricalton

The definition of the phrase ‘body art’ is one of a unique nature – ‘an artistic genre… in which the actual body of the artist or model is integral to the work’. Well, this is what the dictionary defines it as anyway. As a reader, you could also recite this definition as artwork that has in fact been embedded into the skin of a person wishing to decorate their body. This can also be known, in much simpler terms, as tattoos and piercings – a subject that is embedded with controversy and colliding opinions from all different types of people.

As for me? Well, I am all for it. Despite the negative opinions that people, especially those of the older generations, tend to hold over the damaging image that body art can display, tattoos and piercings can actually be quite a beautiful representation of meaning. By choosing the right artist, a desired style and, most importantly, a clean studio, your tattoo needs and desires can go from a dream to a reality.

This was the case for me, anyway. After deciding to get my first tattoo just after my 18th birthday in March of 2018 – a small script piece dedicated to my favourite female singer, Lana Del Rey – I chose to get my second piece, one which would resemble my close relationship with my mum. Yes, tattoos are with you for life and are big decisions, but they can also be symbols of memories and people. You might regret them in the future, but in one moment of time they meant something to you, and that’s something you can’t regret. For me, my tattoos are a collection of importance. They remind me of the significant women in my life; the people who inspired me and made me – a symbol of liberation that links back to the female gender. And, due to this reason, I choose the tattoo artist and, more recently, fashion designer, Emily Malice, for my second ribcage tattoo. She is an icon of this specific artistic industry, and somebody that owns what it means to be a woman.

For this short series about women in the tattoo industry, I was fortunate enough to interview Emily about her experience as a female tattoo artist. After all, until recently, tattooing was seen as a male-dominated industry, and the art form was used to create an aggressive image that was stereotypical of masculine characteristics. Nowadays, female artists, like Emily, dominate the industry and use tattooing to create pieces of similar meaning to mine. Whether this is for women, or men, her work is of creative expression. Her tattoos have allowed people to feel connected to their appearance on a closer, and increasingly loving perspective.

As seen in the images shown, Emily created a small, dainty tattoo for me, one of which resembled years of affection in connection to my close family relationship – a bee and two lavender flowers, pictures that represent two of my mother’s favourite things. Whilst interviewing Emily, we discussed what it felt like and meant to her, as an artist, to tattoo such symbolic pieces on her clients. She stated, “It is something I don’t ever feeling any less than mind blowing. I am so grateful to everyone who takes the time to come and get tattooed by me and wear my art on them for the rest of their lives. It is the most precious gallery in the whole world!”

And so, she is right, tattoos can be symbols of dedication, little pieces of art that can represent the respect held for an artist, and the meaning created behind their work. Emily Malice is an admirable inspiration for both women and aspiring artists across the globe, creating pieces for, as quoted in her interview with Disorder Magazine, “the old and young, rich and poor, and the straight and rebellious of all types people.” For her, her art holds no boundaries that can discriminate. Currently, Emily tattoos and designs at Grace Neutral’s East London studio, Femme Fatale, with a love of botany and pop art, an aspect of her career that we discussed throughout our interview.

QUENCH FASHION: When and how did you get into the industry of tattooing? Why did you become interested in it?

EMILY: I started tattooing six years ago, in Nottingham. It wasn’t easy finding somewhere. No shops were really interested in me or my art but I persevered. I saved up all my money and moved to London as soon as possible. I felt I really learned to tattoo at ‘Into You Tattoo’ with my tattoo dad, Alex Binnie.

Q.F: What does tattooing mean to you? Is it an art form or a form of expression for you?

EMILY: Tattooing to me exists as both of these – I answer questions I have, and visualise emotions I may be going through within my art. I have always enjoyed speaking through imagery and creating my own visual language.

QUENCH FASHION: What is it actually like to be a tattoo artist? Can it be challenging or restrictive?

EMILY: I guess I can only answer this in my perspective – I find it completely liberating and challenging, which I love. The way I work is a little different to conventional artists – I like to sit with my customer and draw on the spot. I find it a much more personal and enjoyable experience for us both to get to know each other and create something beautiful together.

It wasn’t only her art and desired aesthetic that we discussed in relation to the tattoo industry, but we also spoke about the judgement that women can face whilst being an artist or tattooed themselves. We asked Emily what it was like to be a woman in this industry, and whether or not there are any differences between the treatment of male and female artists. 

EMILY: In my own personal experience, I have unfortunately experienced some misogyny – I got fired from two shops because I stood my ground when guys would be inappropriate or try and bully me. I knew it was a moment in time, and success is the best revenge. In London, there is a really positive and progressive vibe in the shops where I like to hang out. I believe that if someone works hard and has good energy then that to me is a great artist.

This understandable and commendable determination that Emily has had towards her passion of creating striking art pieces, has had an obvious impact upon the people who have chosen to be tattooed by her – myself included. It is clear to see that her work, and tattoos in general, have given power to people, especially women lacking in confidence.

QUENCH FASHION: How do your tattoos make you feel? For example, are they empowering?

EMILY: Absolutely. I feel like I have scratched away the surface and I can live my life looking how I choose, to me it is claiming ownership of my body – an armour that makes me feel like a goddess. Before I learned how to deal with stress and anxiety I would self-harm – the scars it left behind would draw attention which made me feel really insecure and I wanted to hide under concealing clothes. My tattoos gave me the chance to cover them up and move forward in a new chapter of my life.

This tends to be the case for many of those who have chosen to be tattooed. Whilst in conversation with my friend, Charlotte Clark, who has also been tattooed by only female artists on multiple of occasions, with one of these tattoos being designed by Emily herself, we discussed the impact that her body art has had upon her as a young 20-year-old girl.

QUENCH FASHION: What do your tattoos mean to you? Are they empowering or do they give you confidence?

CHARLOTTE: My tattoos do give me confidence. I’ve wanted them for years and now I can’t imagine what I’d look like without them.

QUENCH FASHION: What is your opinion on women having tattoos despite its masculine reputation?

CHARLOTTE: I think that view is very dated! I think women could be covered head to toe in tattoos and still own that bad girl vibe, yet remain feminine at the same time, just like Emily!

QUENCH FASHION: What made you choose Emily for your tattoo?

CHARLOTTE: I came across her work on Instagram, and I fell in love with her style as soon as I saw it! I remember seeing the lips with braces and telling my mum that I will get one done by her one day! From the minute I saw it, I knew I wanted to have her artwork on my body, and so I did!

QUENCH FASHION: What does the tattoo by Emily symbolise to you?

CHARLOTTE: My tattoo by Emily has been created around the people that I love and their favourite flowers, it’s one of my favourite tattoos that I have! It means a lot to me and is also the biggest piece that I currently have. I’d love to go back to Emily though, maybe add a few more flowers and a snake onto the piece if I can!

QUENCH FASHION: Do you find female artists, like Emily, inspirational?

CHARLOTTE: Yes, she is doing so incredibly well in such a male dominated industry. She’s such a boss, but also super sweet at the same time! My ultimate female crush. I also feel a lot more comfortable with female artists, especially when you have to undress half the time. It just makes the whole experience a lot easier.

As concluded by both conversations with my friend and Emily, who I now view as someone I can trust and relate to, females from both ends of the tattoo industry, whether this is the artist or client, are now gaining the respect that they deserve.

After years of hard work and determination, tattoos are now viewed as an art form, rather than being related to the hostile image that they used to portray. As someone who now has a total of three tattoos, I believe that this form of body art can be used to emphasise the character that you desire to create as an individual, especially when you’re young and on the journey of self-discovery. As as clearly stated by Emily, tattoos can be a form of self-expression. In the modern age, they are a symbol of empowerment. They help to provide individuals with a confidence that, especially us women, need in an age of such harsh judgement, self-hatred and misleading images that portray the female body to be something it is not. The female-led tattoo industry is one of raw quality, one that is dominating the scene as we know it.

Be sure to check Emily out if you are considering getting a new tattoo – her work is definitely worth the dedication of discovering the world of body art. 

Emily Malice Instagram – emilymalice (Emily’s Instagram account)

‘Filthy Cute LDN’ Instagram – filthycuteldn (Emily’s fashion account, which showcases her recent venture into the sustainable fashion industry)