“The body is the warmest media to work with,” begins Rosa Laura, a young, budding creative who, like many other budding creatives, started their ink journey by tattooing themselves at around age 13. And while they admit they didn’t know much about it at the time, they said that even then they felt connected to tattooing. “My mom has a lot of tattoos, so that’s probably the first contact I had,” they explained.
Laura grew up in Sao Paolo, Brazil, a country rich in indigenous culture. They took the usual route in life of going to university where they studied architecture, and later on, worked in graphic design focusing on painting and visual arts in a private atelier in Sao Paolo. Laura cannot deny their love for the Brazilian indigenous culture. “We have amazing indigenous in Brazil with a strong visual identity; mixing rituals with body modification and body painting themselves in beautiful ways,” they say. “I think that also inspired me.”
When Laura turned 18, their brother gave them their very first tattoo machine, and proudly shares how their family had always been supportive and thought they should be a tattoo artist, “even before I had the confidence to be one.”
Today, Laura is a full-time tattoo artist and has been traveling for the past eight months to ink people, mainly with the hand poked method. “Hand poking is beautiful because it is so simple – just needles and ink. It’s also very nice when it comes to healing since you have a lot of control while doing it. You don’t harm it very much and the healing is faster,” they said. “Although I already worked with a machine, hand poking is where I feel at home so far.” Laura further noted that this method of tattooing gives the artist a lot of proximity with the person. Because you don’t have the noise a usual tattoo machine makes, you have lots of space to get to know your human canvas, “sharing those two to three hours [of a tattoo session] in an interesting way.”
As well as hand poking, there is also something about the intersection of the body as a canvas and the art of body modification that makes Laura such a notable tattoo artist. “I respect body modification as I respect tattooing, both for being a process of self-learning and putting out the version of yourself you want the world to see. I think it is beautiful to see people creating their own eccentric persona, overcoming barriers and pain to do it,” they said. On the same token, the quiet space during tattoo sessions taught Laura to be more connected to the body, stating that it’s vital to understand the body as an important part of a good tattoo.
It’s this great respect for body modification that inspires Laura’s style, which is mainly abstract and has been honed through the many years of self-practice and learning from various artists like Jun Matsui, who they studied under in 2017. For them, the placement and harmony matter just as much as the design itself. “I create pieces in a looser way, without necessarily thinking of tattooing first.”
The indigenous people in Brazil and South America have also become a huge inspiration for them. “I have to mention the Yanomamis, Kayapós, Huni Kuins, Guaranis, Guajajaras and so many others,” Laura said, further noting the respect they have for the “connection of body paint and modification with the daily life they have, using the body to express and protect themselves, reaffirming their culture and identity.”
Laura, who identifies as genderqueer or non-binary, now creates unique designs and continues to work on #xeroxseries, a series that utilizes xerography, a dry copying process that uses electrostatic to reproduce and distort images. In this technique, Laura plays with a xerox machine to create compositions. “I really enjoy the unpredictability of it…when I move stuff in the machine, I don’t know how it is going to turn out. Even like that I can create a strong identity for myself with it,” they said. “I like to think it was the first photoshop we had.”
For Laura, being a tattoo artist is so much more than having your own style or making a name for yourself. “Tattooing is my world,” they say. “It is how I express myself. It is where I see my soul reflected.” It’s more about connecting to your roots. To what inspires you. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who make you feel safe, so you can make your clients feel safe. “Being non-binary makes me look for studios to tattoo where I feel safe to be myself and where I am sure that I will have a safe environment to tattoo my fellow queer friends – where they will be safe to undress if necessary and to express themselves.”