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February is black history month, and in honor of this stupendous celebration of African American culture and achievement, we thought it was time to recognize the many contributions of African American artists and celebrities to the piercing and tattoo community.

Forgetting the accomplishments in general fashion of such ground breakers as Miss Donyale Luna (the first African American supermodel) and the stunning Dorothy Dandridge (first black actress nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress), we can concentrate even purely on contemporary alternative fashion and make a great list of achievements.

Like tattooist Miya Bailey, who works out of Atlanta, Georgia and has inked custom pieces for celebrities, including hip hop legend Usher. His artwork is surreal and expressive, whether in brilliant technicolor or dusky monochrome, and as an artist in general and not just with skin. He stakes claim as one of the very first and most unique African American tattoo artists of our time, having been part of the industry since the early 1990’s.

Stretching and modern primitive modifications have also been heavily influenced by African rooted cultures.  African tribal cultures were the first to practice piercing and stretching of the lip, by inserting plates, plugs, or disc’s into their lips and letting them gradually stretch. Women of the Mursi (a group that inhabits Southwestern Ethiopia), still practice lip stretching today and wear lip plates that may be up to 5.9 inches in diameter. Ouch!

In today’s diverse world, many famous African American men and women show off their piercings and tattoos to the public, setting new fashion trends in the world of body art. Kelis, a singer-song writer nominated for two Grammy awards, sports a septum piercing and often wears chains that connect her ear piercings to her nose. Other artists like Eve, famous actress and rapper, express their artistic side with tattoos that give them a sense of identify. Her famous paw print chest tattoo has set her apart from other celebrities and sparked the mass tattooing of paw prints on many a fan. Some African American men have expressed themselves with their tattoos… and the more the merrier! Chris Brown, 50 Cent, and Lil’ Wayne are just a few artists who are covered in ink. Actor Jamie Fox and famous champion boxer Mike Tyson are another two famous men who clearly weren’t shy about showing their tattoos. And singer Lenny Kravitz paved the way for acceptance of men’s facial piercings. Even sports star Stevie Johnson recently openly unveiled his microdermal cheek piercing, making him the first NFL player to sport a facial dermal.

So in honor of this observance month, get educated on the history of African American cultural backgrounds and triumphs. Take the time to recognize those who have truly set their mark in the world, and admire those who break the Hollywood mold with their artful self-expression and amazing talents.

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