More than 100 artists and 20 businesses from across North America gathered in Halifax this weekend for the Maritime Tattoo Festival.
The annual event attracts around 2,000 visitors each year, and with pop-up tattoo booths around every corner, it’s no place for those who are afraid of needles. But the inking extravaganza is about more than getting new body art – over the past 13 years, it has helped destigmatize tattoos in common culture.
According to Coco Rose, a tattoo enthusiast who has attended every year, her ink still gets a lot of stares at work, but they’re fewer and further between.
“People are more creative at the same time and more welcoming these days,” she told Global News. “I think (the festival) makes people more comfortable.
“It makes people really want to experience what we go through and why we do it and why we’re just trying to be us.”
Over the years, the festival has gained a reputation as a place where all are welcome and all forms of self-expression are supported. Its drag queen hosts, Mrs. Stewart and Mrs. Murphy, say they’re encouraged by the diverse crowd it continues to attract.
“When you look at it, you’ve got these two beautiful old women hosting this thing and then you’ve got all these amazing groups and people and communities coming together for one thing,” said Mrs. Stewart. “It’s nice.”
“They all share one thing in common, and it’s great that we can share that with them,” added Mrs. Murphy.
Its booths aren’t limited to tattoos, either. The festival includes tables for steampunk, piercings, clothing designers, skincare products, animal skulls and more. It also includes a live music component and seminars on topics like colour realism, shop security and how to prevent infections.
Lisa Bickert, a tattoo shop owner from Bancroft, Ont., said she’s attended for the past four years and loves sharing the space with a diverse group of talented artists who challenge the boundaries of body art.
“You get to see what’s up and coming, you get to meet artists that are your peers, you get to get tattooed by people that are your peers,” she said. “And we just have a great time.
“Artists are very strange people, and this is a great place for a bunch of strange people to get along.”
The Maritime Tattoo Festival also doubles as a fundraiser.
This year, organizers chose to collect cash for the Mi’kmaq Family Healing Centre. Red dresses were hung on the walls of the Cunard Centre, where the event took place, in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
The event wrapped up on Saturday afternoon after three days of tattoo contests, music, colour contests, portrait contests and more.
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