The project also speaks to the need for women and people of color to be adequately represented in the industry, which is still dominated by white men. “A lot of people are coming to me saying, ‘I’ve been looking for a long time for a woman who’s a person of color and does tattoo art,’ “ Garner tells me. One participant in the Recess project explained that he was getting a tattoo of a cotton plant to pay homage to his ancestors. “It was really important that a person of color was doing this tattoo, and not a white person,” Garner says. “Because to him that would have been totally unacceptable.”
“Invisible Man Tattoo” is not the first time Garner has embedded a tattoo shop within an exhibition. During her 2017 show “Doctor’s Hours” at Larrie, a storefront gallery in Chinatown, she took tattoo appointments, and displayed flash that was chiefly anatomical—skulls, bones, lips and teeth, stomachs and spines. Also on view were her drawings, photographs, and sculptures, all depicting pieces of a body—variously adorned with jewels, bristling with needles, or violated with medical instruments. The most striking of these are her glass sculptures, which dissolve the boundaries between glamour and the macabre with their glittering surfaces and tendrils of hair.
“Being in the art world, then being in the glass community, then trying to assert myself in the tattoo industry—all these white, male-dominated spaces,” she says, “I want to break down these false ideas that we’re not allowed in these spaces or these types of practices.”