The new East Somerville space aims to be inclusive
(Somerville Wire) – Owners Aisha R. and Arran Lane moved from the United Kingdom to the Boston area in 2019, where they opened Pearl Street Tattoo Club. The shop aims to foster respect and build community, while allowing customers to express themselves creatively through the art of tattooing. At Pearl Street, the team says, they believe tattoos are for everyone and anyone who wants them. I asked Aisha and Arran to tell us a bit about their vision for the space—and what goes into a well crafted tattoo design.
When did you open Pearl Street Tattoo Club, and as a husband and wife team from the United Kingdom, what was it like to come to Somerville?
We opened at the start of September this year. We had already lived here for 2 years, as we came here for Aisha’s dream postdoc position at Tufts Medical Center as a placental researcher. We already knew that we loved the area; it’s got a great art scene and is a lovely city to live in. We live 15 minutes walk away from the shop, and it was important to us to keep it local, as we are expecting our first baby around Christmas time. Opening the shop has helped introduce us to more of the community and making friends with other small local businesses (like The Curl Bar next door, All She Wrote Books in Assembly and Haus of Threes, a new LGBTQ+ community center by Sullivan Square Station) has been so fantastic. We have had so many people just from the local area stop in and say hello and offer support. It’s an amazing community in East Somerville! We definitely feel proud to be a part of it.
What does it mean to you to be a Pakistani, woman-owned tattoo shop? How does this identity inform your mission?
Most tattoo shops are owned by white cis men. This break from tradition gives us a unique perspective into the tattoo needs of marginalized communities like BIPOC, women and LGBTQ+ clients who often feel intimidated by or have had negative experiences in other shops. Unfortunately, we have heard so many horror stories over the years of mistreatment of both clients and artists, and opening a welcoming safe space headed by a BIPOC woman felt like a necessity to create the kind, respectful tattoo scene we want to see become the norm.
You aim to be a safe and inclusive environment. How do you promote anti-racist, pro-women, pro-LGBTQIA+, and pro-science values in the community?
Being a woman of colour, Aisha could see there was a total lack of representation of BIPOC skin tones in tattooing. Speaking to white tattooers about ways they could improve this and be more inclusive just felt like banging her head against a wall—no one listened or cared! There are simple things you can do. For example, Arran showcases his work on a variety of skin tones and puts these examples in an easily accessible highlights reel on his Instagram. All white artists in our studio are required to do this. Representation of diversity is at the forefront of our social media. Our shop also performs colour tests on BIPOC skin tones. So many people with darker skin have been told they can’t get colour tattoos – this is not true at all. At PSTC we work with your skin tone and use colours that will contrast and create a colourful striking tattoo. We also highly value safety at PSTC. Our artists have undergone trauma sensitivity training, and we are very selective about our hiring practices to ensure women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ clients are as safe as possible in our studio. There has been a huge “me too” movement in tattooing recently that has exposed a plethora of unsafe artists all over the world. We also understand that there is a culture of conspiracy theory belief in tattooing. Far too many tattooers are anti-vaxxers or believe in harmful conspiracy theories rooted in anti-semitism and racism. Thus, we are very careful with who works in the shop. And finally, in such an intense customer focused trade, we wanted to make sure customer health was also a priority. We are very science-forward with all our staff being fully vaccinated, wearing masks and being as safe and hygienic a space as possible. Overall, customer safety and respect is our number 1 priority.
How has tattooing been a creative outlet for you? What do you like about it, and how would you describe your style? What do you aim to do when you design a tattoo for someone?
Arran has always been an artist and fell in love with tattoo art at a very early age. Raised by bikers and hippies, he always wanted a non-traditional career and was exposed to a lot of creative people throughout his life. Arran’s style is called neo-traditional, and he utilizes bright colours and strong linework to create beautiful pieces of unique custom one-of-a-kind art for his clients. He aims for a strong composition that compliments the placement on the client’s body and will look striking from a distance and hold up over time. The most important thing is that the customer leaves delighted—a tattoo is for life and it is vital that you love it!
What do you see as the problematic history and issues present in tattoo culture today, and how do you hope to address them?
Tattooing has a very problematic history, as much as it has a progressive and beautiful one. Its initial reintroduction to the western world is a direct result of colonialism and cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation in tattooing is still common to this day. From people getting very specific tribal designs, often associated with achievements or rites of passage to earn them, to people getting tattoos featuring native headdresses, despite us still living on stolen land and oppressing those who lived here first. Many “old school” tattoo designs are rooted in the racist rhetoric of the time they were created, and while we can appreciate the techniques of these old tattooers, it is past time to leave their artwork where it belongs—in the past. Education and understanding of where these designs come from and how they continue to be harmful today is key to how we aim to address this. Knowing and recognizing that some of the art you find beautiful may not be yours to use is important. So many cultures have had so much stolen from them in recent history; it’s essential to be respectful of this when choosing and designing a tattoo.
On top of this, there is rampant misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia and ableism in the industry and media around it—this is often left unchecked due to perceived power balances in the tattoo world. For too long the tattoo scene in the west has been dominated by toxic masculinity and the idea that tattoos are “tough guy stickers”. Tattoo media outlets perpetuate this and will prioritise artwork on white, able bodied, thin, cis people, whereas worldwide, tattooing, and indeed body modification in general, is much more entrenched in culture. For example, we have a Filipino friend whose tiny elderly grandmother is head to toe covered in the tattoos of her tribe, and Aisha’s grandmother had a gold nose piercing when piercing was still just an Asian practice in the UK.
Tattooing and Body Modification is an incredible way to enforce your bodily autonomy, and perpetuating the idea that it’s not for everyone does a disservice to how tattooing could and should be: an art form for all who want it, performed in a way that promotes respect and equality.
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.