M&B_1990s_greenWEB  M&B_1990s_blueWEBM&B_1990s_pinkWEB

It is impossible to study the history of tattooing in North America, particularly contexts of women and tattoos, without noticing a parallel between surges in the popularity of tattoos and surges in feminist discourse. A distinct correlation can be drawn between periods in tattoo history and the so-called “waves” of feminism*.

This month’s poster is an homage to the Third Wave, which exploded in the form of the movement known as Riot Grrrl. Riot Grrrl called bullshit on the fact that the punk scene was dominated by guys. Here was a movement that rejected the establishment and was supposed to be “alternative” yet it reinforced so many sexist beliefs. Bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile and L7 re-defined punk music to include women, and created a space that encouraged women to make their own music, art, and writing and to create their own scenes. The style of the poster is inspired by zine culture and the pre-Photoshop days of tape, glue, scissors and the Library photocopier.

The DIY culture embraced by the Riot Grrrl movement means that convention and tradition are truly out the window; people can take the means of production into their hands and they do. All the rules about traditional design explode into infinite possibilities.

Tattooing in the 1990s really starts to branch out, across class, race and in imagery. Not only have women established themselves firmly and equally in the business of tattooing but shops and artists also specialize further, emerging with all-lesbian shops and those specializing in black skin. Tattoo artists are showing their work in galleries and fine artists are crossing over into tattooing.

And while every decade has some form of proclamation that tattooing has become so popular, in the 1990s tattoos really burst into mainstream consciousness with the proliferation of tattoos appearing on celebrities, in advertisements and even on Mattel’s 40th anniversary Barbie.


Our muse for the 1990s is Kathleen Hanna, founder and singer for the bands Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin, who shouted “Girls to the front” at Bikini Kill shows, asking the guys to please move to the back of the venue to give space for the women to mosh without fear of bodily harm. Photo by Jonathan Charles and used under Creative Commons license.


Model: Jenn Green

Photography: Dan Bushnell

Art Direction: Dan Bushnell, Sarah Gallagher

Graphics: Sarah Gallagher

* Feminism in North America is loosely conceived in the following stages: First wave, with suffragists in the turn of the last Century, fighting for the rights of women to vote (the tattoo equivalent is women entering the field of tattooing and acquiring tattoos for no reason other than fashion); Second wave, in the late 1960s/early 1970s, with the invention of the birth control pill, legalized abortion rights, and a demand for equal pay for equal work (the tattoo equivalent is the proliferation of female-owned tattoo shops); and finally, Third wave feminism, which began in the early 1990s (the tattoo parallel here is the breaking down barriers of class, race and sexual orientation in the tattoo world).


Tattoo Artists:

Don Ed Hardy http://www.tattoocitysf.com/

Idexa Stern http://www.blackandbluetattoo.com/idexa

Leo Zulueta http://www.blackwavetattoo.com/

Further reading:

Freeman, Nicole (2014). Riot Grrrl: the Feminism of a new Generation (website) https://www.mtholyoke.edu/~freem20n/classweb/Media.html

Gilbert, Steve (2000). Tattoo History: a Sourcebook. USA: Juneau Books.

Girls to the Front book: http://www.girlstothefront.com/


Mifflin, Margot (2013). Bodies of Subversion: a Secret History of Women and Tattoos. Brooklyn: PowerHouse Books.

Pierced Hearts and True Love exhibition catalogue: http://www.worldcat.org/title/pierced-hearts-and-true-love-a-century-of-drawings-for-tattoos/oclc/34274134&referer=brief_results

Riot Grrrl Manifesto: http://onewarart.org/riot_grrrl_manifesto.htm

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