Tattoos & Travelling Talks with Rizza Boo

Tattoos & Travelling Talks with Rizza Boo


This week in the series, Grace speaks to Rizza Boo on her experiences as a Black-British tattoo artist and why she started up Shades Tattoo Initiatives.

Scroll down for a recap of Grace and Rizza's conversation.

G: Today I’m gunna be chatting to amazing British tattoo artist called Rizza Boo. I’ve known her since I first started getting into tattooing, when I first moved to London - so over ten years ago. She’s incredible; she’s been working in London for well over a decade now. A true force to be reckoned with. Rizza, can you tell everyone about what you do and how long you’ve been tattooing?

R: So, I’ve been tattooing for just over fifteen years and I started in London - I’m from London - but I’m based in Glasgow now. I’ve been up here for four years, more or less, and I like it. I do miss London - especially how multicultural it is. Within tattooing, I’ve been in the industry for quite a long time. I only just realised, in the last two weeks, talking to POC in the industry, that I don’t actually personally know any other black female tattooers in London. It’s definitely something that is gradually changing, but certainly in the beginning I didn’t see many Black or brown faces in the industry like me.

G: Do you feel the industry has gotten better since you started and how have you seen that progression? If you feel comfortable sharing any of those stories.

R: Where to start… So, have things changed? Yes, I would say things have changed in terms of that there are more POC in the industry. Being able to find each other, whether at conventions or just representation and visibility, I think there is still quite a big gap in terms of what you’re exposed to. When I think of POC people in tattoo magazines for instance, I think more of POC models, not artists. In the time I’ve tattooed, I’ve been asked to do just one feature over the fifteen years of my career. This is not to say it’s all bad - I have had many opportunities to appear at conventions and am very grateful for my career and the opportunities I’ve had. The thing that was really sad - from the stories I’ve heard from people reaching out - is that even apprentices who are only two to three years into their career have already been in some horrendous situations. For example, not just as clients but also in workspace, whether that be colleagues not speaking up against discrimination or direct discrimination to them itself.

G: What are some specific things about the tattoo industry that allow for this lack of visibility?

R: A lot of problematic words are used, for example, when people say coloured skin is an “issue” to tattoo on, or even that “it’s not possible to tattoo on that skin”. For a POC to hear this again and again from different tattoo shops, is destructive and the language needs to be more constructive and inclusive. For example, saying “I’m sorry, I don’t have the skillset to give you the tattoo you deserve” or “I’m sorry, I’m not experienced enough, but I would like to help you find someone who is and can give you a better tattoo experience” is the language we need to be using. Sadly, a lot of tattooers were never required to learn on darker skin tones - this should be essential in apprenticeships. This is part of the reason why I started Shades Tattoo Initiatives; to provide a safe space to build community, educate artists, help build skills and showcase the work of Black and POC tattoo artists working in U.K.

G: As tattooers, we need to include everyone - all skin colours - as our templates for our tattoo skills; we need to diversify the background we do our art on.

R: Yes, I agree and it starts with things like this, starting the conversation and keeping it alive and forcing change to happen.

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