Arts·Art Hurts

Art Hurts: Meet 8 extraordinary tattoo artists whose ink is worth a little bit of pain

Modern tattooing has been seen as a bit of a man's game — but all the artists featured in our new series happen to be female or non-binary.

Tattooing has been seen as a bit of a man's game — but all these artists happen to be female or non-binary

Art Hurts is a new CBC Arts digital series, now streaming on CBC Gem, that focuses on eight of the game-changers in the Canadian tattoo landscape. And they're all female-identifying or gender non-binary. Just saying, guys.

Tattoos have been around for a long time. Like, a LONG time. So why a new digital series focusing on eight of them from across the country? At CBC Arts we say, why not?

Art Hurts is the result of going on a long quest through piles of tattoos to find out which artists have such a strong aesthetic that you'd recognize somebody from across the street who'd been inked by the same person as you (tattoo cousins!). We wanted artists who have written meaning and symbology into their tattoos in a way that resonates with the people who get them — i.e. it's that artist's language, but it means something to your experience too. And we wanted to find artists who are doing new things or thinking about tattoos in a different way. 

We found eight (and there were many more to choose from) who fit the bill. And something started to emerge as the list got smaller: these artists were all female-identifying or gender non-binary.

In many cultures, tattoos have a history rich with women as both the tattooers and tattooees. In Inuit culture, mainly women would both give and receive tattoos (kakiniit) that played into social and familial identity. That's just one example — there are many. But in much of western popular culture, 20th-century tattooing has been a bit of a man's game.

Art Hurts will show you that the landscape has changed. You're getting introduced to eight strong personalities, each with their own compelling visual language. And we dare you to not want one of their tattoos when you're done meeting all of them. Here's a primer:

Ilona Fiddy

Fiddy's a Toronto-based artist who has integrated her deep reverence for traditional tattooing from the Philippines into her practice. And she bears the distinction of meeting the oldest living tattoo artist, Apo Whang Od — a legend (and a source of some serious street cred) who we met in this CBC Arts doc. Watch the episode.

Liz Kim

If you're in Los Angeles, you'll likely need to get on a waiting list for this self-taught Canadian transplant. Her dreamy designs are the result of a lifelong attachment to tattoos and the bravery to defy some social stigmas to start doing them. Watch the episode.

Hilary Jane

Botany and strength are themes of Hilary Jane's practice. In her Montreal studio, she crafts tattoos that are full of unusual colours, twisting plants and bold faces stemming from her love of nature and her resilient spirit. Watch the episode.

Tee Fergus

When Tee Fergus first got interested in tattoos, she didn't necessarily see space for a queer Black woman to be part of the landscape. But now, her Toronto-based practice is creating sought-after tattoos and busting misconceptions about how Black skin and tattoos work together. Watch the episode.

Marigold Santos

For some tattoo artists, ink is only one part of the game. Such is the case for Montreal-based Marigold Santos, whose practice encompasses drawing, painting and printing. And she's reviving the terrifying folklore of a vampire from the Philippines in her haunting tattoos. Watch the episode.

Jessica Coffey

People have been lining up to get Jessica Coffey's tattoos that emblemize the significant pride Newfoundlanders have in their natural landscape. From the houses of St. John's to puffins, Coffey crafts charmingly local tattoos that she'll happily and painfully poke into your skin. Watch the episode.

Amy Malbeuf

Amy Malbeuf's another example (there are many) of artists for whom ink is only one medium. Malbeuf is a Métis artist, originally from Alberta and now based in Nova Scotia, and her designs work to keep Indigenous tradition a vital part of tattoo culture. Watch the episode.

Nomi Chi

Nomi Chi's tattoos are painterly, mysterious and unafraid to explore sexuality, emotion and gender. Good luck getting on their waiting list — like many on the Art Hurts roster, Chi's followers are in the tens of thousands. Watch the episode.

What do all of the artists in Art Hurts have in common? They're passionate, they're pushing the limits of their own tattoo practice, they'll travel the world for their craft and they care about what they're putting on your skin.

Also, I now want eight new tattoos. So that's something.

Stream Art Hurts now on CBC Gem.


Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an art history instructor and is always quite terrified of bees.