If you were creating a mood board to encapsulate the year 2019, what would you put on it? Greco-Roman statuary, leafy plants, gummy bears, vintage cell phones, crystal balls, astrological symbols, plus-size women, glitter, and Ariana Grande. Play a quick game I Spy on the Instagram page of Mira Mariah, @GirlKnewYork, and you’ll notice that the internet-famous tattoo artist has her needle on the zeitgeist.
Better known by her Insta handle, Mariah is one of the most in-demand tattoo artists partly because of her distinctive, Jean Cocteau-like line drawings and partly because of her emphasis on the femme gaze. She depicts things womxn care about, and updates classical imagery for our current moment. “I love Renaissance art,” Mariah says, “which always references either the Venus or mythology and an over-idealized woman. It’s really fun to take that idealized woman and challenge that idea by making her trans or fat or just more relatable to a modern girl.”
The Long Island, New York native, who is now 27, has always been a tattoo enthusiast and started covering her body with temporary tattoos when she was 15. A few years later, at age 19, Mariah got her first permanent tattoo near St. Mark’s Place when she was fashion design student at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
It was only after she spent some time in the fashion industry after getting her degree did Mira Mariah consider becoming a tattoo artist—both Mariah and her friends had been thanklessly searching for a tattooer with an overtly femme tattooing style which served as her impetus. Mariah’s own style, which relies on curlicue contour lines, was born of necessity to her. “My line drawing is a little bit reflective of traditional fashion design and fashion illustration,” she says.
Take a closer look, though, and you’ll see that roughly half of the tattoo designs showcased on her Instagram page depict women from the chest up. Some are crowned with the cosmos, while others have flowers in their hair or a snake encircling their shoulders. But all of these different women, to Mariah, represent Venus herself. “I’ve always looked at Venus as this idealized woman, so to see her presented in the ways I’ve presented her — in having as many variations as the people who mean a lot to me in my real life — that’s been the joy of my life, honestly,” Mariah said. “To see her Asian, or to see her Black, or covered in tattoos, or fat, or skinny, or any way has been an honor.”
Her epitomized woman is…Venus
Why are so many of her clients getting tattoos of Venus-figures? Many of the Venus portraits are expressions of the clients themselves, or an embodiment of their values. “A lot of times it has to do with oneself, so I’m tattooing women on women because they want to communicate a certain emotion that they feel or a certain emotion a woman important to them feels or a certain emotion they look up to.” As she designs each piece, Mariah develops each Venus character with the client, asking the client questions like, ‘How is she feeling’ and ‘What is she thinking about?’ and ‘What does she spend her time doing?’
Other times, the Venus portraits are objects of desire.”A lot of the women I’m tattooing are getting women on them because they’re queer women, so that’s the kind of person they’re interested in and interested in talking about and looking at and thinking about,” she says.
“I joke a lot that good tattoos look like you were born with them,” she says. “It looks like it was always part of you.”Mira Mariah, @girlknewyork
Her flash is specific—but so is her custom approach
Once a month, Mariah’s books open up for appointments, and she receives a flood of emails from potential clients describing what they’re looking for. “If we want to pursue it, I have a few notes written down at the time of your appointment. When you come, I have a chat with you, look at you see what’s important to you based on your stylistic choices, draw something and then modify it from there.” In other words, all of the design work is done on the spot.
Aside from her books, Mariah routinely posts collections of flash tattoos on her Instagram page, which come strictly from her imagination. Over email, clients can select and request which flash design they want. Picture her most recent flash day which was hell-themed, featuring evils, cigarettes, and flame motifs. The next one, she says, will be heaven-themed.
When traveling to places like London, Paris, and Los Angeles, Mariah will do a guest residency at a local tattoo parlor. In those cities, she makes sure to take time in the cities respective urban nature centers. “I really love gardens and plants,” she says. She fell in love with London’s wisteria plants. “I’d never seen them before in her whole life.”
On trips Mariah is also sure to take stock of the scene around her, particularly the locals. She constantly is asking herself questions like “What are the girls wearing? What are they talking about? How are they carrying themselves? What kind of bags are they carrying on the subways?” Mariah recalls.
Her Instagram game is strong
Many of Mariah’s clients find her through Instagram, which she says gave women a place in tattooing “that we did not have, and I don’t think we would have had for quite a bit longer.” Unsurpisingly, roughly 85 percent of her followers are women, a ratio that also translates to her clientele.
“To be able to access them and have them access me via this platform has been such a blessing, and while there are so many parts of Instagram that can be punishing and complicated, [other parts] have allowed us to demand plus-sized clothing and to demand diverse representation in media and advertising, and with that demand and seeing that demand be fulfilled, we’re that much closer to seeing the kind of world we want to be a part of.,” she says. Among her celebrity clients is most notably Ariana Grande, who counts Mariah as her regular tattoo artist. Get this: Grande even wore @GirlKnewYork merch to Coachella this year.
Because she studied fashion design—and considers tattoos a form of wearable art, akin to permanent jewelry—Mariah is coming full-circle and branching out into merchandise and jewelry design as part of her global domination plan. “I joke a lot that good tattoos look like you were born with them,” she said. “It looks like it was always part of you.”
“The truth is, my art is a lot less permanent than most art, because my art only lives as long as you do,” she says. “We can go see Botticelli’s Venus now, several hundreds of years later, and we won’t be able to do that with the art that I’m making now. It’s very temporary, and that’s an important part of my relationship to it.”