Four two-dimensional birds, made of ink, statically soar across the back of tattoo artist Jaslyn Tate, also known as Lynk Art. Her first of many tattoos, the birds represent Tate’s three siblings and herself and symbolize their ability to exceed their expectations in life and goals.
An amalgamation of designs adorns Tate’s left arm as a sleeve, while a portrait of her mother, who died from cancer when the artist was ten, rests on Tate’s right forearm. The latter serves as a motivational piece for Tate.
“And then I have ‘No Excuses,’” Tate said while pointing to the tattoo on her right wrist, below her mother’s visage. She explained that when she has moments where she breaks down and cries, one glance at the tattoo helps Tate pull herself together and move forward.
“I feel like it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling; things must get done,” she added. “So yes, it’s OK to express and to cry then, but know that there’s time for it, and then you have to pack it up, pick yourself up and move on.”
The New Orleans native has been an artist her entire life, starting with drawing and painting, before attending the Savannah College of Arts and Design in Georgia, where she majored in graphics. However, she did not complete her degree. She needed a job, but she did not want just any job. She wanted something that would fall in line with her passion.
Many people encouraged her to pick up a tattoo gun and pursue the industry, but Tate initially felt resistant. However, once she found herself needing work, she landed an apprenticeship with a tattoo shop, and everything moved quickly from there, she said.
“It’s just been a blast, an exciting experience ever since,” Tate told the Mississippi Free Press. “I’m very passionate about it. I’ve always been passionate about art, but tattooing is different in that … it’s also a powerful way to connect with people. If you pay attention to people’s body language, it’ll say more than they can say (verbally) sometimes. A lot of people feel like it’s therapy.”
Tate, part of an all-Black women-owned and -run tattoo shop in New Orleans called Ladies of Ink, learned about the first-annual Jxn Tattoo Soul & Arts Festival at the Mississippi Trade Mart (1200 Mississippi St., Jackson) two weeks before its debut from April 14 to 16, 2023. At the Festival, attendees commissioned tattoos from local tattoo artists on the spot and could browse local vendors selling food and other goods while music artists performed live.
“I haven’t been to Jackson in I don’t know how long, but I’m so glad that I (came),” Tate said. “It was enjoyable. I got to meet a lot of artists that are close to home.”
‘Celebrate the Talented Artists Right Here’
In June 2021, tattoo artist Steve Hendrix hit the road to participate in many tattoo conventions in major metropolitan areas like Chicago, Ill., and Memphis, Tenn. “I was traveling to these different tattoo shows and conventions, and that time opened my eyes to the business industry of tattoos,” he said.
In recent years, tattoos have become much more commonplace in mainstream culture. People have created many television shows, art installations, and media platforms to celebrate the once-taboo medium and introduce it to a broader audience.
Mississippi has been an eclectic source of artistic expression across mediums and disciplines for several decades. Tattoo culture has been a mainstay in the city since the early 2000s, with the proliferation of shops and artists reaching heights that would have seemed unlikely just a few years prior.
Steve Hendrix and his wife, Ozie Hendrix, organized the Jxn Tattoo Soul & Arts Festival to celebrate the talented artists in the state who work in this medium. “The goal was to bring the energy of a convention in a bigger city right here,” Steve said.
The event featured several tattoo shops and artists from Mississippi and areas of Louisiana, including Exclusive Body Art, Profane Tattoos, Urban Legends Tattoos, Inkk Junkies Tattoos, Inkk Culture Tattoos, Ink Addicts, Spectac Ink, and Jaslyn Tate under her Lynk Art moniker.
Each business had several artists in their booths, often working simultaneously with clients. The sights and sounds created a unique spectacle and community among attendees and exhibitors.
Along with tattoo artists, vendors, and visual artists set up tables to sell their wares; local caterers and food trucks offered consumable goods for purchase; and music artists, including DeezleMusik, KoolKid Ridge, Yung Jewelz, Storage 24, 5th Child, and Jo2Federal, performed live.
“I was glad to see it all come together and that I had the right team to execute the vision,” Hendrix said. “We had a great time and are ready to start planning for next year.”
As an academic adviser at Tougaloo College, Adrienne Hughes kept it professional by covering up, but underneath her business outfits hide a dozen tattoos, she told the Mississippi Free Press. Because she used to play basketball as a kid, she sports a small, black basketball tattooed on her shooting hand. She also has a Superman emblem on her arm and a Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, which reads in the King James Version, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Another piece covers her entire back and comes up to her neck, peeking underneath her black blazer.
“I plan on getting a couple (of tattoos) today,” Hughes said at the event.
Hughes joined the Jxn Tattoo Arts & Soul Festival as a vendor promoting her business, Juicy Wooder Ice, a mobile concession trailer that serves homemade Italian ice flavors with varying toppings. Available flavors, as seen written in black marker on an upright whiteboard, included cotton candy, mango, apple, and others in three sizes.
Originally from Philadelphia, Pa., Hughes moved to Mississippi 10 years ago after her mother, who is from Mendenhall, Miss., retired and relocated to her home state, encouraging Hughes to move as well. After settling into Mississippi, Hughes tried a snowball for the first time and a cup of shaved ice with different syrups flavors drizzled over it. Unlike the Italian ice or water ice she had in Philly, she found it, which uses similar ingredients but is made differently.
“I didn’t like the concept of pure ice with syrup poured on top of it,” Hughes recalled. “You have to get to the bottom to get the syrup because pouring it over the ice goes straight to the bottom. So it was like I was eating ice.”
After her experience, Hughes decided to open Juicy Wooder Ice. She has been able to cater events and even earned a spot at Taste of Mississippi, an annual event in Jackson. After one year of business, the business owner said she would open a physical location off Bailey Avenue across from the Medical Mall in June.
“It’s been a hit. Every flavor that I have is a hit. And I picked up the toppings on the way because originally, where we are from in Philly, we don’t put toppings on them. We eat it straight,” she explained. “But from visiting different states, I have picked up the coconut cream on my pineapple and the mango, and then I do the caramel and sour apple for kids.”
Her best seller is the Mangonada, mango ice with chamoy, tajin, and a tamarind candy straw. So far, Mississippian customers experiencing more wood ice for the first time have given her overwhelmingly favorable reviews. She said many have expressed that they like her product better than the snowballs they grew up with.
Keshana Monique was one of the first vendors attendees saw as they walked through the inaugural Jxn Tattoo Arts & Soul Festival doors. Atop her vendor table rests lip glosses, wine glasses, tumblers, beard oils, and lip and body scrubs made with fresh herbs and plants from her garden.
“I’ve been doing this for five years,” she told the Mississippi Free Press. “I started like a couple of months before I got married. I was terrified to start, but my husband, my cousin, and his wife pushed me to start. I had to rebrand, and I had a lot of pitfalls, but I finally came up with it. It’s named after me.”
Coming from a family that promoted more traditional corporate jobs over entrepreneurship, the founder and CEO of her product line was initially afraid of failing. She worked at Nissan and was in school for a short time before she embarked on her own and delved into her creative side with beauty and cosmetics.
Monique infuses her scrubs with roses grown in her backyard, watermelon juice, and chia seeds. She scraps the sugar from the cane and infuses honey with different oils for her love and brown sugar scrub.
“I research a lot of herbs because I like teas, I like growing things, and I want to see what I can grow,” she explained. “I come up with many of my blends with trial and error. I try to do an herb daily to see how it affects me.”
The Festival has allowed Monique to network with people and see amazing artists perform. She also hoped to get a Libra tattoo on her finger to add to her collection of tattoos.
“This is the tattoo my husband got for me on my birthday, and it was also an anniversary gift,” Monique said, pointing to the queen crown in her hand. “He has a king crown.”
On her wrist, she has the word ‘Love’ as an infinity sign, which she got when she was 18. “I wanted something on me, but I didn’t want just anything, so I was like, ‘self-love,’” Monique explained. “I have one on my shoulder and a rose on my back.”
‘A Way to Connect the Two’
Directly adjacent to Juicy Wooder Ice, Ethan Bradshaw sat quietly at his booth, selling visual art. The front of his table featured various portraits of Black entertainers, from rapper Tupac Shakur to singer Lauryn Hill and comedian Dave Chappelle. On the table, a pair of purple Timberland boots have an image of singer Prince painted on them and another, New York rapper Raekwon.
Behind him, hanging on a black curtain, was a jacket with Lauryn Hill’s face painted on the back. And for those who may not be interested in his custom apparel and accessories, he offered art prints of Erykah Badu and Hill. Many people perused his table, complimenting the detail exhibited in his work or inquiring about the cost of particular paintings. One young man approached the table seeking advice on perfecting his craft as an artist.
“I’ve been doing art since 4 or 5 (years old); like, actually picking up a marker and drawing is one of the first things I remember doing,” Bradshaw told the Mississippi Free Press. “So I’ve always been tied to it. I got into an art program at APAC, probably (around) fourth grade. I was there until eighth grade, and they helped me hone in on stuff and sharpen my skills.”
After high school, Bradshaw attended the University of Southern Mississippi to study psychology instead of art because he wanted to create a form of separation from the narrative that he was “the guy who could draw.” He tried minoring in art, but after one class, he dropped it because he did not like being told how to draw. He occasionally drew, but art did not become his main focus until after graduating from USM.
“Almost as soon as I graduated, one of my friends hit me up about a couple weeks later, and he wanted a portrait done of himself,” Bradshaw recalled. “So that was the turning point for getting back into it. I spent 2014, 2015, and 2016 building up my brand, building up my name, and putting myself out there.”
Most of his paintings relate to music, which he said has always been there for him since childhood. He likes to paint pictures of some of his favorite artists and other people with whom he has ties.
“I found a way to connect the two, so it’s always people I’ve connected to and just people I know other people will appreciate,” Bradshaw said.
While his sporadic schedule does not afford Bradshaw the time he would need to be a tattoo artist himself, clients do come to the artist to create tattoo designs—which he does freehand—that they then bring to tattooists.
The artist doesn’t have any extravagant tattoos or simple words. He has his mom’s name, the term ‘Blessed,’ and a dated tattoo of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.’s Greek letters.
“I’m weird about tattoos. Like I want more, but I’m real, real particular. If I want to get something extravagant, that person has to be on point,” he said. “I’d rather stick with words. Simple. Something I know is like definite lines, easy to do, but if I find somebody, I do have ideas for tattoos I want.”
‘One Stop Shop’
Joshua Lacey and Marquee Brown conceived the idea for Bleeding Ink Tattoo Supply, which they believe to be the first tattoo-supply store in Mississippi, while they were getting tattoos themselves. After researching and finding no tattoo supply shops in the state, they followed through and opened their business on January 1, 2023, as a mobile unit. They have since transitioned into a physical store in Ridgeland, Miss.
Brown left his job at a Dodge dealership to pursue this field full-time, while Lacey runs another business besides the supply shop. He prefers to stay behind the scenes, researching, while Brown acts as the face of the company, talking with clients.
“We got ink, needles, machines, numbing cream, aftercare, medical supplies, piercing supplies,” Brown said. “We’re in the process of getting permanent makeup supplies. Whatever they need.”
“Pretty much whatever is needed, we’re going to be the one-stop for it,” Lacey added.
Lacey and Brown have four and two tattoos, respectively. Lacey sees tattoos as a way to express oneself. He said tattoos do not necessarily need to have sentimental significance, though most of the tattoos on his body have some meaning behind them. Lacey has a detailed clock on his forearm with an eye at the center. Right under it is a skull with blue accents to match the eye’s color.
“This is just a combination. The clock is set for when my wife and I got married. … The eye is for the all-seeing eye,” Lacey explained, showing his tattoos. “The skull design, it kind of just went with this, all the smoke and the rose.”
The two business owners and their wives all have matching tattoos to symbolize their friendship. Lacey also has tattoos of his kids’ footprints and names on his chest. He plans to add two lions and two cubs on his arm to represent his family to create a complete sleeve along with the clock and skull pieces.
In starting the tattoo supply shop, the duo has been introduced to the extensive network of tattoo artists Jackson and the rest of Mississippi has to offer. “We didn’t realize there were as many artists as there are,” Lacey said. “I mean, there’s a ton of artists in the Jackson area that you don’t even know that are here because they’re not advertised well.”
“I got this one done about eight years ago, and there were just a handful of shops around then, so it’s a lot more now,” he added about one of his tattoos. “It’s a lot of great artists in this area, too. You get on Instagram and look at a bunch of stuff, and every shop has some outstanding artists.”
Najalynn Chandler flipped through Jaslyn Tate’s portfolio book at the Festival, hoping to get a tattoo of an eye from the artist. Unfortunately, Tate was booked up for the rest of the day, but the setback would not stop Chandler from finding someone else at the Festival who could give her her 13th tattoo, she said.
A recent graduate of Jackson State University, though she is originally from Gary, Ind., Chandler got most of her tattoos in Mississippi. The first person to tattoo her was her sister, who moved to Mississippi first. The Festival was right up her alley as she had been searching for an arts space in the city that suited her for a long time.
“I would have to say there’s one on the back of my neck: It’s an eye, and it also says ‘Divine,’” Chandler said, describing one of her favorite tattoos. “I just feel like now I can see back there. I can know what’s going on behind me.”
Additional vendors featured at the event included Bite My Culture, Unexpected Candles, Butta Scrubs, Snakes In The Boot, Morg LaPre, T-Mobile, Vybez Cuisine, The Caribbean Frog, Great Arches Beauty Bar, and Mosto Creations.
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