Reality TV shows within the tattoo community are a bit like COVID-19 strains. When the First Big Impact Came (TLC’s “Miami Ink” 2005) it changed the world. But now it’s difficult for even the most informed and passionate fans to read more than one headline when there’s news. While tattoo reality shows have become something we’ve only just learned to live with, there are still some that can make a bigger difference than others — especially in certain communities.
When Black Ink Crew premiered on VH1 in 2013, it didn’t quite have the same global impact as Miami Ink. By this time, the TLC show (and its spinoff LA Ink) had given millions of viewers across America a glimpse into a subculture that had long been considered taboo. But while Ami James and Kat Von D introduced the art form to suburban families, “Black Ink Crew” featured renderings by highly skilled African-American artists who were typically ignored in an industry dominated by white and Latino tattoo artists.
“When I first started tattooing, it was a very closed industry — especially for tattoo artists of color,” says Katrina “Kat Tat” Jackson, who starred in the first three seasons of Black Ink Crew: Chicago and recently returned to the franchise as part of Black Ink Crew: Compton. “It wasn’t easy going into a shop and getting an apprenticeship, and I felt like most black tattoo artists were considered ‘scratchers’ because we weren’t professionally trained and had to start in our basement or dorm room. When Jackson started in the early 2010s, she says, it was all but impossible for a black artist to get white tattoo artists who owned businesses to give them an apprenticeship. “Apprenticeships and black-owned tattoo shops just weren’t really a thing,” she says.
Fast-forward nearly a decade, and Jackson says the made-up drama and inconveniences that come with starring in a reality TV show are worth the effort, both for the platform it’s earned and earned for the impact she and the show may have on the next generation of Black artists.
Over the course of her three years with Black Ink Crew: Chicago and the half decade since, the 30-year-old has seen a significant transformation both in her own life and in the tattoo community at large. As the industry becomes more diverse, the cast of all three “Black Ink Crew” series have become some of the most recognizable faces in the industry.
“We were literally a talented group of young black artists doing a great job,” says Jackson. “We all got together in Chicago, and then we got a national platform. It was like, ‘OK, now we’re going to change the narrative about how black tattoo artists are frowned upon or how we’re not professionals.’ Despite all the drama or whatever personal things were going on in our lives, every time this camera caught us tattooing, it was an amazing tattoo. I think television has a lot to do with the advancement of the tattoo industry, especially for black tattoo artists. It would be one thing if we got on TV and did horrible tattoos and reinforce that stigma or stereotype. But to get there, to do nice work and be respected for it, we’re kind of pioneers in changing the tattoo industry.”
Since her first departure from television in 2017, Jackson has devoted her time and energy to building a life away from the cameras. She became the first black woman to own a tattoo shop in Beverly Hills with Enigma Tattoo, gave birth to her first child (and is currently pregnant with her second). She has also partnered in beauty and fashion, and recently signed a deal with Paramount to develop and produce her own show. Now she’s taking the next step in every facet of her life by directing the next season of Black Ink Crew: Compton. while she completely renovated her store and bought a house with her fiancé, NFL linebacker Jamie Collins.
As she munches on a breakfast burrito on the patio of Tarzana’s Blu Jam Cafe, Jackson’s current life is a far cry from what she was when she first got involved with tattooing a dozen years ago. Showing her work to an artist in Minnesota while getting her second tattoo as a teenager, the famous tattoo artist’s career began as an underground side hustle while attending college. But it wasn’t long before Jackson followed her artistic passion and quickly landed a role as the first female artist at 9MAG, the shop featured in Black Ink Crew: Chicago.
Since building a global following through VH1, Jackson made the biggest decision of her career when she left Black Ink Crew. in 2017 and opened Enigma Tattoo in 2018. The shift from simply being an artist to taking responsibility for ownership brought with it a whole new set of problems and opportunities for the lifelong artist. Instead of devoting all of her energy to creating the best possible tattoos, Jackson suddenly needed to understand things like logistics and management.
“I’ve never really thought of myself as a boss, so I don’t really run the place like that,” she says, plucking the last of the eggs from a whole wheat tortilla. “But in some positions you have to be so tough to get things done, otherwise you fail. I’m not exactly a pushover, but I’m not the most assertive person either, and I really had to take responsibility for being in that leadership role when it comes to making those tough decisions, like firing people or just doing certain things not to be tolerated. ”
As the boss of Enigma, Jackson brushed aside any semblance of maternity leave during her first pregnancy and tattooed for the first eight months before finally stepping down to give birth. This time around, she’s been so busy renovating Enigma’s current location from the ground up while expanding her brand in new directions and filming Black Ink Crew: Compton that she didn’t even get a chance to tattoo that much as she would love to do it this time.
Though her return to television now means she’ll have to rely on her fiancé to babysit her toddler and adjust footage between renovation appointments and property launches, Jackson is more excited than ever about her return to the small screen — especially if that’s how they move on can open new doors for women of color in the industry.
“I’m really excited to be back,” Jackson says of her return to Black Ink Crew. “Having left the show in Chicago a while ago, I’m really happy that now that I have my own shop and have broken down those walls for colored tattoo artists, I’m getting my TV opportunity back. I’m just really excited to continue driving this needle and contributing to the changes we’re seeing in the industry.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-07-13/kat-tat-black-ink-beverly-hills ‘Black Ink Crew’s’ ‘Kat Tat’ on return to reality TV, motherhood and making boss moves