Life, death and tattoos

Taoseña defies convention, opens own ink shop

By Jesse Moya
Posted 6/14/18

In the male-dominated tattoo industry, one Taoseña is breaking the barriers and giving the boys a run for their money. Vida y Muerte Tattoo, or Life …

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Life, death and tattoos

Taoseña defies convention, opens own ink shop


In the male-dominated tattoo industry, one Taoseña is breaking the barriers and giving the boys a run for their money.

Vida y Muerte Tattoo, or Life and Death, opened April 1 as the only shop in Taos to be owned and operated by a Hispanic female artist.

Mariah Atencio launched the business after several years of experience tattooing in Taos. Vida y Muerte is Atencio's way of expressing to the male artists that women can be capable artists in the industry and deserve to have a place in the long history of tattooing.

"You're definitely doing it for the love," Atencio, a Taos native, said. "It's so in your blood. You can't just walk away from it."

Atencio began apprenticing in Taos in 2015 after years of experience in and around the industry. After getting her first tattoo as a teenager, Atencio said she was hooked from there. She began her collection of ink and her fascination with the industry.

Through the years, tattoos have taken Atencio to new artists, learning new and different styles to add to her own. Atencio said she doesn't focus on a particular style of tattoo, adapting instead to requests from customers.

Tattooing is no easy industry to make a name in, and Atencio said being a female artist possesses even more challenges. Female artists are becoming more popular in the industry. However, according to Atencio, the majority of artists are males and have expressed doubts about work from women artists.

"I've had a few artists who are really kind to me and really nice, and I have the other artists who are just completely against the fact that I'm a girl and tattooing," Atencio said.

Atencio said people have various reasons for not wanting to be tattooed by a woman. She said some women might feel uncomfortable seeing their male partners worked on by a female artist.

Another issue is that American tattoo artists, as well as those receiving tattoos, have traditionally been men. According to Atencio, only recently in the past few decades has it become more acceptable for women to show their ink.

Atencio also said she has faced discrimination in restaurants and in other public settings as a woman with tattoos and even has had employees follow her around stores, suspicious that she was there to steal.

"It's starting to change," Atencio said. "That barrier is starting to break, but it still kind of hovers over with that judgmental eye. A lot of people are judgmental because you're heavily tattooed or the type of tattoos you choose."

The tattoo scene is one big family, according to Atencio, but like with every family there are issues and feuds. Although she said Taos artists are relatively friendly to the idea of a female tattooer, a noticeable portion of the industry for some reason feels women shouldn't be the ones behind the needle.

After several years around tattooing, it became clear to Atencio that women were supposed sit back and get the "cute and pretty" tattoos and let male artist ink customers. Following the success of American makeup and tattoo artist Kat Von D and other female tattoo artists like Atencio have been on the rise in the industry and are rapidly growing in numbers.

According to the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, there are 13 licensed female tattoo artists out of 199 total artists in the state. Artists must be licensed in New Mexico through the state Body Art Practitioners board and must pay to receive their credentials to practice tattooing, piercing or other modification.

Though no one recently appears to have done a reliable count of the number of female versus male tattoo artists, or artists who don't recognize gender, many publications refer to a 2010 study from Columbia University that found an estimated one in six tattoo artists were female.

Recent articles in Vice, Slay and The New York Times all point to the tattoo industry as still being a male-dominated one. It took eight seasons before the reality series "Ink Master" named its first female winner of the competition, Ryan Ashley.

To combat these negative issues, Atencio is planning on running things a little different in her shop. For starters, Vida y Muerte is planning on opening the shop for the younger fans for airbrush tattoos. Children are not allowed to accompany their parents during a session, so Vida y Muerte will be planning days in the future where kids can come in and grab a fresh semi-permanent airbrush design.

The shop will have a grand opening for the community in mid-July, but Atencio said she is open and taking clients in the meantime.


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