Color Outside The Line: Meet Black Tattoo Artist Miya Bailey
New documentary chronicles black tattoo culture
Years ago, tattoo artist Miya Bailey came up with the idea to show the world that people like him did exist, black tattoo artists. Now, after years of research, travel and a little help from supporters, Bailey's documentary Color Outside the Lines is almost set to be unleashed upon the public. Shot by director Artemus Jenkins, the film sets out to chronicle the contributions of Black tattoo artists all over the world and expose the racism that many of them endure.
Loop 21 caught up with artists and business owner to talk about the film, what he hopes it will accomplish and why black people need to "get their shit together."
Loop 21: What did you want to accomplish with this documentary?
Miya Bailey: I’ve been wanting to do this documentary, even before I opened up my tattoo shop City of Ink. But back then I didn’t have the resources or money at the time. So after putting some money to the side I had to decide if I wanted to open the shop or make the film. I felt like at the time it made more sense to open the shop first, get it to the point to where it could run itself and then do the film. I wanted to show people the history of Black tattoo culture. Documentaries capture history forever. Everybody can look up Don Ed Hardy and other, but you can’t hardly look up the pioneering African American tattoo artists. People are getting certain styled tattoos and don’t even know where they came from. So I just wanted to showcase these artists.
Loop 21: Beyond you documenting Black tattoo artists, is tattooing period something that is documented alot?
Miya: If you’re really into tattoo culture, there’s plenty of information for you to find these people online and find out how tattooing got to America or Europe or Africa. There’s plenty of information out there about tattoo artists. But when it comes to the African American ones, you can’t find anything. When you go on google and look us up, you only see me, Tuki Carter, or Zulu Tattoo in L.A. The same four artists usually pop up and when you see white artist bring up other tattoo artists, they never mention African American ones. I think its because they don’t see enough of them. I just want these people to be shown so that you can go out and support the right people when you’re getting your tattoos. A lot of these rappers have the image of Black tattooing messed up. I want to show how a body sleeve is really supposed to look, present it in a beautiful light and not in some ghetto ass way.
Loop 21: With Black tattoo aritsts, is in that we don’t see the few that are out there, or are there in fact a lot of them out there?
Miya: There’s plenty of us out there. Enough that it took me two years to interview all of them for this film. People in our community need to know who these people are, people in the white community too. If you knew them, people wouldn’t be out getting the same styles over and over again. Black people are some of the most creative and most influential people on the planet and we bring so much style to tattoo art that it shouldn’t be overlooked. We are such a soulful people and most of our tattoos usually mean something. How many people you know have a tattoo of something from the Bible?
Loop 21: Alot.
Miya: Right. When you add that to tattoos about pain, the struggle, survival, our tattoos have a little more passion and emotion involved, which makes them even more beautiful and meaningful.
Loop 21: Is it fair to say that because of Black tattoo artists not being as known or accepted, that it can work out for the better in some instances. Most if not all of the Black tattoo artists we see are also entreprenuers and businessmen by default.
Miya: It does mean something, that’s a good thing. But at the same time, there was a time when female artists couldn’t get in the game but when people like Kat Von D got on television and introduced it to the mainstream, more people started checking for female tattoo artists. I want to see the same happen for Black tattoo artists too. I want to see more people come to us, the source, to get certain style tattoos instead of getting the watered down versions elsewhere.
Loop 21: In making this documentary, were all of the artists you reached out to willing to be involved?
Miya: Its funny you asked. I approached every professional Black tattoo artist in the world. Ones who had been trained and been in the game. Of all the people in the world, I was turned down three times. I think I did pretty good, considering.
Loop 21: Did they give you reasons why they said no?
Miya: I’m not going to say names because I don’t want to publicize them at all. But one guy just never gave me a reason. I interview everybody who worked for him, but he said no. I think that was because he felt a certain way about not being asked first, ego. Another person I used to work with, but I’m not cool with anymore declined. I was willing to put whatever we had to the side just to tell an accurate story. Another person said they didn’t like cameras and another guy straight up told me he doesn’t tattoo black people and he didn’t want that clientele.
Loop 21: Have you found the interest in this documentary to be overwhelming? You guys exceeded your Kickstarter fundraising goal.
Miya: Yeah. Going through Kickstarter wasn’t even my idea. I like to work for mine instead of ask people. The director Artemus Jenkins came up with the idea to use Kickstarter. I didn’t think people were going to donate money. We set a goal of $10,000 and we met that goal in a week. And we got an extra $4,000 after that, so we’re at $14,000 right now. It was an honor to see that so many people were interested.
Loop 21: So when should people be expecting to see it and where?
Miya: Today is actually the last day of filming. I’m going to interview the woman that actually taught me what I know. We already have some offers on the table, we are just looking for the best deal possible. We don’t want to outright sell it. We want to stay independent. We got accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival. Right now we’re gearing up to meet deadlines for Sundance, Cannes, SXSW. We want people who actually make movies to see the film and then get them to offer us some distribution. If it ends up on DVD or theatres, cool. We just want to own it.
Loop 21: Lastly. There’s always been an argument that “black folks” would be further along or more self-sufficient had we stayed segregated. You’ve mentioned that you want to see more Black tattoo culture accepted. Do you think it could possibly be a disservice to what exists already, if you seek mainstream acceptance?
Miya: Art is one thing that is color blind. If you feel it you feel it, regardless of race. I just want to see these kids check out more styles, go outside of your comfort zone. Think about what if Tiger Woods would’ve never played golf because “black people don’t play golf.” I want to break stereotypes. Ultimately, I really want to destroy the idea of “black tattooing” and build it into something bigger with structure, honor and rules in it. Then, once we get our shit together, infiltrate the mainstream tattoo culture, destroy that and build it into something where everybody of all races can bring their contributions to the scene. When you go to tattoo conventions, its only white people. We want to see conventions get to the point where if you’re dope and you’re Asian, Mexican, White, Black or whatever you’re in there, equally represented. I just want to break down walls. But first, we have to get our own shit together.