A rare black female tattoo artist, Imani K. Brown speaks on creativity, racism and craft in the body art world

Tell me about your experience dealing with clients who’ve gone to “scratchers.”

It’s simple. I advise that they should get tested for hepatitis and don’t return to a scratcher. I give basic ideas of what to look for in terms of a sterile environments and chair. I’m not trying to scare anyone into having to sit in my chair, but to be more aware and concerned about their health. It mostly starts with the paying client. If they become educated and aware and stop spending their money with [scratchers,] then guess who goes out of business, right? So, my experience is mostly in eductating tattoo enthusiasts. We should always stay neutral, but I don’t have a reputation for holding my tongue.

I’ve heard that West African adinkra symbol tattoos have become pretty popular in the black community. What are the most popular designs that you’ve done throughout your career?

I’d probably say people wanting peacock feathers have taken a liking to me. Probably because of my super wispy, fine line detail, and you can design them many ways. Others would have to be butterflies and letters. Black people love words, my God! Then there’s the illusive kanji, roses, skulls, and whatever is popular on the next celebrity.

Do celebrities sometimes give a bad name to tattoos?

Most celebrities give tattoos the worst name. And then when people say “I want that on me,” as an artist you have to spend so much time explaining why it’s stupid, why it sucks, why it could be better, why the answer is no. People don’t think for themselves and always want what the hottest celebrity has as if it’s a garment. Get the f*** out of here and figure out your own body art.

What advice to you have for a black female tattoo artists looking to get into the game?

You’ve got your work cut out for you and you better bring it. As black female tattoo artists, we do have something to prove so it’s not enought to just be able to tattoo. We have to be complete packages and be able to hold down our shops and hold our own. So if you can’t bring 150 percent, then don’t come. Otherwise, put your game face on and grind it out! It’s a lot like being in a wife, mother, and bread-winner type of situation.

You have to step up to the plate in every aspect.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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