The fifth annual Cape Tattoo Expo includes a new venue, tattoo artists from fifteen countries, three nights of live music concerts, an art exhibition, a tattoo-themed putt-putt course and, of course, metres and metres of human skin being transformed into works of art.
( This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2013/01/20. )
The Cape Tattoo Expo – also called Southern Ink Xposure – was conceived and is organised by Manuela Gray and Allan Gray. This is the fifth incarnation of their lovechild: a weekend celebrating the art and culture of tattooing, along with allied disciplines and performances. Launched at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in 2009, it has growin in size, popularity and stature from year to year. In 2013, the event will be hosted at the Cape Town City Hall, a move that allows for the Expo’s related concerts to take place under the same roof – and also ties in with the 2013 theme of sailors and things maritime.
“We always wanted a venue where we could host the music and the convention together,” says Manuela Gray after yet another evening of planning and co-ordinating the festival’s various facets – and that after a day’s work at her tattoo parlour in central Cape Town. “But having live music on the floor of the Expo would be a distraction to the artists and clients while tattooing, and would not show enough respect to either form. The option to use the City Hall’s auditorium makes it a very cool venue. It’s so beautiful inside there, and the option of seeing rock bands inside is great. For the first two years, at the Convention Centre, we wanted a venue that was really snazzy and funky; something that helped break down the misconceptions and connotations that the general public has about tattoos. For 2013, now that we have our core audience established, we also wanted to have a venue that was a bit more South African; to really locate it here in Cape Town. We love the heritage of the building – and it ties to our ‘sailor’ and ‘maritime’ themes.”
The inaugural Cape Tattoo Expo attracted over 5 000 attendees, proving that the art form had grown beyond its backstreet bad-rap connotations. The 2013 event hosts more than eighty internationally renowned tattoo artists from fifteen countries, with highlights including big-name international convention star like Bob Tyrrell (USA), Laura Juan (Spain), Dermadonna (Holland), Davee Blows (Hong Kong), Randy Englehard and Gordon Claus (Germany), Mark Bester (UK), Patrick McFarlane (Portugal), and a host of top South African talent. Some misconceptions still abound, and Gray finds herself answering some questions over and over again. Most notably that, yes, members of the public can get tattooed at the event; that the general public is welcome and that, yes, getting a tattoo does hurt a bit while its happening – although the art lasts a lifetime. Slots to get inked by international artists fill up fast, and those interested should visit the Expo website to book a place.
“The Expo is like live performance art, really,” says Gray. “You are let into a world that is usually behind closed doors. Even if you go to a tattoo studio, it’s not like you can walk in on someone getting a piece and say, ‘Can I watch?’ Now, it’s an open invitation to come and see world class artists working side by side; to appreciate the sights of what they do, and to see a whole lot of other things related to tattoo culture and lifestyle.”
These days, notes Gray, “almost everyone knows someone, or someone who knows someone, that has a tattoo, and the younger generation are lapping up the Expo.” However, even though the Expo is the largest of its kind on the continent, the local “scene” is still in its infancy.
“The international scene is huge,” says Gray. “Our Expo just doesn’t compete on that level. Although the artists that come here are very credible, and we do serious screening before we book them, and the quality of work here is as good as anything international, or maybe even better, it is still much smaller. There’s a tattoo event in London that’s three times the size of ours, but I must say that I find that a bit much. I was invited to an event in China that was crazy – there were thousands and thousands of people, and everyone taking pictures of me so that I felt like a rock star. What people love about ours – especially what the artists love – is that it’s personal enough that people can meet one another. It’s small and intimate, and we arrange meet and greets for the artists. Overseas, definitely the support is more, because people here are still working out how to react. ‘Can I really just come and watch?’ they wonder and of course they can. We still have some educating to do.”
Gray is a mother and, thus, able to field a question many parents might have: when would she, herself, allow her daughter to get a tattoo? “Not for a while yet,” she laughs. “She’s eleven and she would have to wait until she’s eighteen. That’s the law, and we stick to that. Of course, although she’s a funky kid who likes surfing and skateboards and wants to play the drums, she’ll probably go in the opposite direction to her mom, and never want one. If she eventually does, though, she will be able to make the most well-informed decision about what sort of a piece to get, and where, and by whom. She’s been to all of our Expos, so she knows what she’s talking about.” (The Cape Tattoo Expo does not actively market to children, but they are welcome, with the only real risk being possible “exposure” to burlesque acts in the main hall. Children under 16 are free, and youngsters 16 to 18 will be issued with a different coloured access band to prevent underage purchase of alcohol at the music shows).
Three concerts run concurrently with the Tattoo Expo at the City Hall showcasing rock, hip hop, rockabilly, indie and, yes, a fair amount of musically-inclined tattooed flesh. Friday features 5FM DJ and tattoo fan Catherine Grenfell, hip hop innovators P.H. FAT, the ever popular DJ Sideshow, and Pure Solid. Saturday features award winning indie rockers Shadowclub, rockabilly proponents Them Tornadoes, The Pits and others. On Sunday, hear Wolftown, The Dollfins, Conduit, Beach Party, Long Time Citizen, Ratrod Cats and Th’Damned Crows.
The fifth annual Cape Tattoo Convention (Southern Ink Xposure 2013) takes place from Friday January 25 to Sunday January 27 at the Cape Town City Hall (day pass R100 (includes admission to expo concert), weekend pass R250; tickets available at the door). More on CapeTattooConvention.co.za, Twitter.com/CapeTattExpo and on Facebook.com.
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2013/01/20.