Havana tattoo artists strive for higher standards

By Katarina Delgado, Havana, Cuba, 2018

Walking down Empedrado street in Havana, Cuba you would never notice Luna tattoo unless you took a peek inside their doorway and spotted the stairs. The brightly painted staircase leading up to the parlor says tattoo in several languages, catering to any passerby curious enough to come up. Yunior Lorente Luna and Bailey Smith Ramírez Madrigal opened the parlor 3 years ago. It is one of only 3 in Havana with sterile conditions, the rest are in living rooms and next to streets.

“A tattoo parlor needs the same rigor as an operation room or emergency room,” Luna said. “A tattoo parlor in your house is never going to be at 100 percent, you can’t sterilize.”

Luna and Madrigal say they do everything they can to make their parlor sterile, buying the same products as artists in other countries but not in the same ways.

“Here you can’t get materials anywhere,” Madrigal said. “The only way to buy gloves is to import them or have a friend in a medical center that can get them for you or give them to you.”

Sometimes, he says, they buy online or have friends bring materials in by the suitcase. If their friends fall through, they have to resort to the black market for materials.

“Not having a market here or a store where we can buy tattoo products or sterilization products makes it a little difficult,” Madrigal said.

But despite the conditions, Madrigal says that talented Cuban tattoo artists are around.

“There are sleeping talents,” Madrigal said. “There are people with a lot of talent but who don’t have the resources to have their own studio. So they’re not famous, they’re not known.”

The partners are working alongside other artists and lawyers to make their trade official and allow for an international tattoo convention next year. They hope that would bring recognition as well as education, to Cuban tattoo artists.

“In 5 years what I’d like to see is that the level of tattooing in Cuba is as good as the rest of the world. And it is, but it’s not recognized,” Madrigal said.

Interviews were conducted in Spanish and translated into English.

Author: Katarina Delgado

Katarina Delgado is a senior in the School of Journalism. The daughter of a Cuban, she was excited by the opportunity to see the country she had grown up hearing so much about. By the end of the trip, her ideas about what Cuba is had changed. Katarina spent her time in Cuba speaking with Babalawos, or Santeria priests. Her story explores the misconceptions surrounding the practice which is very common in Cuba. She enjoys speaking with people in unique situations and holds a love for feature writing. She cherished the opportunity to speak with fellow Cubans.

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