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In The Press.
Miami Herald Monday July 14th 2009

In Miami Beach, tattoos seize the spotlight



From afar, The Enigma just looks blue.
But get close and you’ll see the small pieces — thousands of them — making up a giant puzzle etched on his body over 10 years by 250 different tattoo artists.
Anywhere else, this sideshow performer, who has reshaped his body with horn implants, body piercings and a full-body, jigsaw-puzzle tattoo, would have been a freak. Here at the First Annual TattooLaPalooza, he was just one among hundreds of other tattooed men and women walking the halls of the Miami Beach Convention Center.
”This is not something that can be sent to China and sold,” said The Enigma, pointing to tattoo artists as they etched images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Celtic circles over oiled skin. “It can only be produced by the individual.”
Hundreds of tattoo machines buzzed, as shirtless men with body piercings and young women in corsets and fishnet stockings mingled with mothers and fathers pushing baby carriages — all drawn together by their fascination with body ink.
”We’ve had too many bad tattoo conventions and Miami has had more bad tattoo conventions than anywhere else,” said Mickey Steinberg, the TatooLaPalooza organizer. “ We want to break with the stereotypes. This is the only tattoo convention in South Florida that is owned by artists.”
Among them, Mike Evans, a tattoo artist went as far as joining a lawsuit that ended a 43-year-old tattooing ban in Oklahoma, which in 2006 was the last state to make tattoos legal.
”I lost myself a bunch of money, but I got my shop open,” he said.
Evans talked about his role as an artist:
“We have the hardest canvas to work on — it’s a living, breathing tissue. The human body has curvatures, skin tones, colors and we have to work with all of that.”
To Evans, who wore Japanese and realism symbols around his arms, tattooing still is deeply stained by age-old misconceptions.
”We have the older generation that sees it as a sin. To me, it’s an art form,” he said.
Reality television shows like Miami Ink have moved tattoos from the bodies of sailors, bikers and convicts into the mainstream.
”I’ve tattooed lawyers, cops, doctors, you name it,” said Tony Milani, a West Palm Beach tattoo artist. “It’s huge now. Some years ago, there was one tattoo shop in South Beach. Today, there are eight just on Washington Avenue.”
But it’s not for everyone.
”I’m Jewish,” Milani said. “It’s not allowed in my religion, but now that so many people are getting it, I’ve been thinking about it more.”
Behind him, Dashanae Roberts, 17, leaned forward on a metal folding chair for two hours, sitting still as a large blue lily was etched across her lower back.
Her mom, Millicent Roberts, 33, sat next to her signing the release papers for her daughter’s tattoo and picking her own. She decided on ”R.I.P.” in honor of her mom who died last year.
On a booth nearby, Sid Haig, the horror movie actor known in such circles for his role in The Devils Rejects and his appearance in music videos by rocker Rob Zombie, was contemplating getting his first tattoo: an Egyptian symbol.
”People tend to minimize tattoo work, but they ought to come to this thing,” Haig said. “They usually associate tattoos with motorcycles, with people who are morally corrupt, but these tattoo artists have families.”
A blue blur passed through one of the hallways followed by camera flashes.
It was The Enigma handing out leaflets for his show on Sunday, where he will swallow swords and cut apples in his mouth with a chain saw while blindfolded.
”Is he the one at Ripleys?” Simone Lim-Hing, 13, asked her sister Camila, 10.
“Yes, she said.
Asked if they were scared by the tattoos — or the prancing caged tiger, the dozens of pythons, tarantulas and monkeys filling the aisles of the convention — Camila said, “Nah, I’m used to it. My mom has tattoos all over. . . . She also has a bike. She’s pretty cool.”

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