Art Beat: Tattoos that heal
The scars of domestic violence can be internal as well as external. Hate symbols and gang signs can mark the bodies of members for life, even if they wish to step away from that life. Mae Risk, a tattoo artist and owner of the tattoo shop Heirloom Arts, offers a solution. The shop — which only employs nonbinary and female artists with their own tattooing rooms — also stands out as a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community. Tattoo artists cover scars and unwanted markings with new tattoos, changing lives in the process. It is just one type of healing Heirloom Arts offers.
“Heirloom Arts is my tattoo studio and community gallery space,” Risk says. “We’ve been a tattoo shop since about 2018, but my involvement started in August 2020. I started out being mostly involved in the social media and light management. But in the past couple years I’ve been more heavily involved, to where I now have become the full owner of the studio. I’m loving it!”
Located above Sanctuary Yoga, at 1919 Stearns Avenue in Kalamazoo, Heirloom Arts recently developed a partnership with the Kalamazoo YWCA. Risk says the “Y” has sent some of its clients to the studio for tattoos to cover up scars from domestic violence and subsidizes the cost of the services.
“That’s happened through the YWCA as well as with people just coming to us for help with that kind of thing,” Risk says. “People come to us with scars or tattoos that their abusers made them get, and we work for either a reduced fee or sometimes for free, depending on the situation, to get those covered up. That’s often a big part of the healing process: to not have to look at the thing that the abuser gave you. It’s an important process for reclaiming your body and some of that healing.”
Heirloom Arts was recognized recently by Kalamazoo Start-Up for its commitment to excellence and the community. Along with tattoo services, Heirloom also has fundraisers to help with AIDS research, to support survivors of domestic violence, and offers educational seminars for young people on how to be safe when getting tattoos.
“We went to the dorms of Western Michigan University and talked to some folks who live there,” Risk says. “If you are 18 or 19 and haven’t had a tattoo before, you may not know what to look out for when picking a shop. Make sure your artist is wearing gloves. Make sure your artist signs a waiver. Things like that. It’s really is an issue in the industry, unfortunately, where abuse and harassment can be a thing. Telling people who don’t know about that, that it’s okay to walk out of a situation, is powerful information that we feel really good about passing on.”
Services at Heirloom Arts are by appointment only, and hours are up to each individual artist. Contact them through email at, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Heirloom’s website.
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