The Sierra Arts Gallery in downtown Reno has been showcasing a bilingual exhibit focused largely on local Latino tattoo artists. Our reporter Stephanie Serrano stopped by to check it out. Serrano is with Noticiero Movil, a Spanish-English multimedia news outlet for Northern Nevada and part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.
As dozens of people explore 51 framed pieces of stylized tattoo artwork, a DJ plays Latin American music called Cumbia. The show, La Cultura de los Tatuajes, which means, The Culture of Tattoos, features a wide range of artistic mediums from water colors to digital art created by eleven local tattoo artists .
“One of the standouts is Smokey, Mathew Fernando Carol Madri, who is known as Smoky. He learned how to tattoo while he was in prison and recently passed away from cancer, so you will be able to see work that you will never see again out of this exhibition.”
That’s Eric Brooks, gallery director and creator of the exhibition. He says his goals are to promote the work of these artists and to engage with two very different demographics by changing up this traditional gallery space.
“We have a solid base of people who come to our shows every month who may have never stepped into a tattoo shop before or may not understand why people get tattoos. So hopefully people will come experience this from both sides; people who love tattoos will get a different sense of it being in a gallery setting.”
As Eric hoped, the artist reception has attracted an eclectic group including Melissa Gilbert, a frequent visitor of the gallery.
“I just bought the one that is the heart with the dagger going through it and it is so classical and yet done in a medium that is not classical. It just made me so happy to see so many different people of color and young people. It is not your classic opening and to me that just made my heart happy.”
Gilbert’s purchase is the creation of Albert Rivas who has lived in Reno for 12 years and manages the tattoo shop A Toda Madre on Wells Avenue, which is in a predominately Latino community.
“The paintings I painted are Latino influenced. I have a rosa serape which is a rose that is very traditional in tattooing, but also blended and mashed up with a serape, which culturally known as a blanket like shawl. I feel like, for me, a lot of Latinos don't know about traditional tattooing or maybe they're used to a more black and grey Chicano-style tattooing, so I try to persuade with my style of Americana blended with imagery of Chicano stuff."
Rivas was born in Ocotlan, Jalisco and moved to the U.S. at the age of four.
“I grew up in Los Angeles. I was already into tattooing out there, except for, I always wanted to be a "tattoer." I just didn't find it easy to do it there. I felt like, people typically get out of high school and either go to school or for a lot of Latinos like myself the next step is to get a job to help out and support the family.”
Rivas started his career when he was 20 by giving free tattoos at the local mall. He himself is covered in ink and he’s often met with mixed reactions.
"So I have my whole head tattooed and I don’t really shave my head often, but when I do I feel like I get different expressions from people than when I do when I have my hair grown out."
Traditionally, tattoos are not well-received in older generations of Latino immigrants.
“My mom told me that if I ever got tattooed, she would disown me. I am now super tattooed and my mom is very proud of me. If I can change her mind on it then I think it is growing and that is why people are accepting it our generation is the change.”
Now Rivas and 10 other artists get to be a part of that change by showcasing their work in La Cultural de los Tatuajes.
The exhibit is open through Monday, February 27. Over the weekend, appointments are needed. You can set up an appointment by contacting Eric Brooks as 415-596-4987 or email@example.com.
Stephanie Serrano is a student reporter with Noticiero Móvil, which is a Spanish-English multimedia news outlet for Northern Nevada produced by the Reynolds School of Journalism. Funding for her reporting comes from KUNR and the Pack Internship Grant Program.