Interview: A Women-Centric Tattoo Artist in Her Own Words

Updated: Jul 13, 2018

The Homegirl Project interviewed Shanzey Afzal on her journey founding the revolutionary mobile tattoo parlor InkMinx. For our full essay on Shanzey, click here.

By Malavika Kannan

Why are you passionate about creating safe spaces for women to get tattooed?

I became a tattoo artist before [finding] my passion [for] creating safe spaces for women to get tattooed. While I was apprenticing I noticed so many little things. Women constantly walked in asking for a female artist, privacy, more feminine designs, or to talk in detail about their tattoo and what it [meant] to them. We have incredible shops filled with amazing male and female artists, but like any industry, there is a seedy underbelly that remains from a misogynistic past.

Why is tattoo art important to you?

I love the permanence of the art, yet the inability for it to become archival. The art belongs to the wearer. Tattoo art is powerful--it can provide empowerment, motivation, remembrance, closure to trauma, and more. These are feelings that are incredibly personal and I'm lucky to be a part of it.

What is your vision for the future of the Ink Minx movement?

The movement has barely started! One day, Ink Minx will serve as a collective of female tattoo artists, all talented and with their own visions of what a feminist tattoo culture looks like. That vision started when I met SacredPoke, a tattoo artist that focuses on holistic imprinting. I knew that instead of seeing talented women like her as competition, it is important that we join together in empowering our clients. Soon I'll start a blog interviewing artists such as Natalia from Beaver Tattoo (an all female tattoo shop), or Jes from Nice Tattoo (a shop where everyone's nice to you). And then down the line, I'd like to have artists do guest spots in the Ink Minx studio. Ink Minx won't change the world, but by providing tattoos it is certainly changing lives of each client.

You’re a Pakistani-American woman, so it’s likely that you experience the intersection of racism and sexism. What are your thoughts on the duality of racial and gender identities?

I've had a really hard time with this diaspora. Racially, I've been ostracized, fetishised, and minimized. I work hard to educate [others] politely [about] how they've made me feel. As a queer woman, I'm lucky to live in NYC in 2018, where my experience has been mostly positive! However, I feel for those who haven’t had the same [experience], especially those who don't traditionally present their gender. Those are the ones who are particularly vulnerable, and I'm here for them.

Who inspires you in life?

My Papa: he is the hardest worker I know. He's a conservative Muslim [and] hates tattoos, but has always supported me. That’s the definition of unconditional love, and what is more inspiring than that? Also, my clients. Every story. In every email, they tell me [why] they want me, specifically, to do their tattoos. It’s an honor. Lastly, Charmaine Olivia is my favorite artist, and if I could tattoo nothing else but her work, I'd be a happy girl!

You’ve received a lot of opposition. How does that impact your life?

I take it in stride, but it hurts. I've learned not to read comments from press about myself. I get insults, death threats, and comments falsifying the legality of my business. If that was the only feedback I received, I would've quit by now. However, each time something is [published] about me, I am inundated with positively. My email gets flooded with messages from all across the world from women (and men!) who support me. I could go on and on for days about each message I receive. They keep me going and I'm ever so grateful! I've learned that my actions can reach others. I've learned that it’s important to tell your story. And I learned there will always be opposition, but there is brightness in the strangest of places. Just the other day, I received a call from two male Muslim scholars in Dubai telling me that they love tattoos and want me to ignore the [hate].

The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life?

I'm a queer, first generation Pakistani-American Muslim in post 9/11 society. [Women like me are traditionally] born and bred for a good marriage and to live by the status quo. However, my family didn't raise me for that. I was raised to do whatever I wanted. I get many comments from girls of similar backgrounds that are afraid of letting their families know [that] they are tattooed. Tattoos are one way to claim your ground, empower yourself, and separate yourself from anything holding you back. I have a sort of fierce personality. To me, female empowerment includes lifting other women up.

What is one issue that you want to change about the world?

To be blunt, I'm sick of people not going after their dreams. Whether it’s fear or finances, just take the leap! Nothing has made me feel more terrified-- and fulfilled. Follow your passion and your truth and share it. Please.