The undeniable power of integrally knowing black struggle, and iconography, is given straight to tattoo collectors who come to people like Brittany Randell; someone they can connect to on a deeper level. Tattoos are consistently used as a means of sparking empowering transformation and this is part of what her mission is. Deeply inspired by her roots, and the stories of others, Brittany is also enthralled by the beauty of nature and literature. In delicate illustrative linework, her tattoos capture images that are filling a deep void of POC visibility within the tattoo industry.
There is power in connecting through experience...especially if that experience includes knowing first hand the struggle, and often impending trauma, of being black or a person of color in a world that both fetishizes and represses minority cultures. Racism, classism, sexism; all of these are rampant, and through education and expression there can be real change. Brittany's tattoos are part of a powerful means to reclaim our true and authentic selves; a way to express the most important pieces of our human nature.
Can you talk a bit about your artistic background? Did you always want to be a tattooer and how did you get into tattooing?
Ive always been an artist since I could remember, through high school and university etc. but when I graduated university with only a literature/art history degree, I was not sure where my artistic future was going. Then I became pregnant unexpectedly, over three years ago, I needed to find a way to make stable income, especially as a single parent. So tattooing started to become this idea where I could not only create and do what I love but also build a business for myself and my son.
Who are your biggest influences? Your personal heroes?
My biggest influences; Beyonce, Rihanna, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Personal heroes; My best friend, Anna.
I’d love if you could talk about African iconography and how you translate that into tattoos for your clients, such as the “Tears for my Ancestors” flash! How does it feel to be giving black culture much needed visibility in the tattoo community?
Thank you, Im so happy you enjoy that piece! It really resonates with me on a personal level. I recently came in touch with family from the states who had documents identifying my grandmother’s great-grandmother was of the Kru people in Liberia and was taken and shipped as a slave from there to South Carolina. When I learned about this, it shocked me to have tangible proof that slavery and its oppression was so deeply rooted to my biology, to my ancestry. So, I wanted to express in some way my sadness, my rage…my connection to my ancestors and their stolen identity and culture. So this flash piece came to life. I feel as though because I have a deep connection with myself as a black woman, and with my ancestry that resonates through my art and what I create and more importantly through social media for everyone to see and experience that with me.
Tattooing is often seen as a white male dominated industry...what has your experience been like? Do you feel like our community is evolving and growing for the better? What can we do to help speed things along?
When I first started getting into the tattoo industry, I had so many rejections and was turned away by so many shops downtown Toronto- I felt as though this continued to happen not because of my art but for the fact that I’m a black woman. I would get accepted for interviews into shops via email or social media based on my art and design ideas, but always had this tension when I physically went into these spaces that clearly did not accept me or people who look like me.
After about six months of this I decided to teach myself and created a safe space for me and people who look like myself or have had difficulty finding shops or artists that are unbiased to skin tones and body types. I would like to think that my biggest impact now is through social media. I make a conscious effort to post black people, POC of all hues and tones, sensitive skin, people of all shapes and sizes no matter what. And I know there are so many other tattoo artists doing the same thing for the community, but unfortunately the “masters”or “tycoons” of the tattoo industry, those with huge followings, still continue to have paler/ white social media feeds and often express that they prefer not to tattoo people of colour. SO, as long as artists like myself and others that continue to showcase POC it will show others what their capabilities for documenting tattoos can be!
Your collab with Inkbox is gorgeous. What was the process like in creating the temporary tattoos, and are there any other brands or organizations you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Yes, I love working with Inkbox! The process was quite easy actually. One of the reps reached out to me to collaborate with them and all I had to do was submit some artwork which they chose from and their creative team took it from there! I was very happy to experience working alongside them! I would love to collaborate with Tattly as well! Or with other tattoo artists even, for merch, or physically tattooing together etc.
If you could choose anyone, living or dead, to have dinner with, who would you choose and why?
Zora Neale Hurston. I would love to sit down and discuss her experiences as a black woman during such an imperative time period in the states, her black struggle, and her goals/influence for the Harlem Renaissance.
If you could only read one book, listen to one record, and watch one movie forever which ones would you choose?
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, ‘That’s All I Ask”by Nina Simone (Honestly any song by Nina) and The Revenant, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Beyond tattoos, what are you really passionate about? What can you not live without? How do you spend your days off?
I absolutely love to read; could never live without literature. I could not live without my son, friends and family. And I spend most of my days at the gym, or drawing.
Do you have any travel plans, projects, collabs, merch, etc. coming up that you’d like to share? Any hopes for this year or the next?
Hoping to start a Canadian tattoo tour next year spring and possibly head across the Atlantic to the UK as well, specifically London!