Shanzey Afzal on Feminist Tattoo Culture

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Meet the Homegirl: Tattoo Artist, Founder of InkMinx

By Malavika Kannan

Shanzey Afzal wears her story on every inch of her skin.

Her body is her canvas, and her journey is carved in swirls and patterns, from the flowered heart on her arm to the Indian bridal Mona Lisa on her back. You can see her strength on her arms, shoulders, and legs. As a queer Pakistani-American woman in post-9/11 society, her tattoos are her armor, waging war against a society that seeks to silence her voice.

At a young age, Shanzey fell in love with henna tattooing, an ancient tradition from her Pakistani culture. In spite of the stigma against tattoos in conservative Muslim communities, she started an apprenticeship at the age of twenty-one, eventually becoming a licensed tattoo artist in her own right.

However, the tattoo industry wasn’t always a welcoming place for a blossoming female artist of color. As an apprentice in a business dominated by machismo, Shanzey strove to make her own mark, often in spite of the seedier, misogynistic aspects of the tattoo parlor.

She saw this challenge reflected in the experiences of her female customers, who often struggled to find female tattoo artists, privacy, and more feminine-looking designs. It was often difficult for women to bare their skin—and their hearts—to male tattoo artists who weren’t always receptive of their needs. It was even more difficult for Muslim, Jewish, or South Asian female customers, since they couldn’t reveal their tattoos to their families—a situation Shanzey sympathized with.

Shanzey came to observe that female tattoo culture is extremely personal. Indeed, female tattoos often reflect the diversity and emotional intensity of womanhood, in all of its triumph and tragedy. Shanzey herself had used tattoos as a form of artistic therapy in the face of heart-breaking challenges in her own life. She was determined to share that emotional experience with others.

Unfortunately, the intimacy between the tattoo artist and customer was often lost in rough male-dominated spaces. As a female artist, Shanzey valued the poetry of grinding an experience into living skin. She wanted to create a safe space for women to tattoo their identities, telling skin-deep stories that transcend what meets the eye. By creating a tattoo experience specifically geared towards women, Shanzey hoped to provide comfort and emotional poignancy for her customers.

Shanzey bought a 1963 Shasta trailer and converted it into her own mobile shop, InkMinx. She furnished it with a soft female touch, adding marble floors and pink highlights. InkMinx follows the Riot Grrl rule of “girls to the front,” tattooing only women and nonbinary customers.

Through InkMinx, Shanzey hopes to create a space separate from the old boy’s club, focusing on women, emotional journeys, and artistic strength. Her feminist tattoo revolution seeks to reclaim what has always belonged to the female experience, baring it unapologetically for the world to see.