By Eve Pierce
Home Prickers: Blockheads or Rebels with a Cause?
A controversy has arisen in the Netherlands after a documentary by Vice laid bare the
growing subculture of people making their own home tattoos. The self-styled tattoo artists call themselves ‘thuisprikkers’, which roughly translates as home prickers.
The home needlers get their training from Youtube and practice on themselves. Their body art is not always pretty, and it’s not always healthy either. After-care? People can just google that themselves, can’t they?
Welcome to the very noir world of home tattoos.
Much-maligned by professional tattoo artists for their lack of hygiene and their lack of respect for the craftsmanship and the dedication it takes to make tattoos, the home prickers practice their art in the comfort of their living room. There seems to be little worry among professionals that they might be losing business to the underground operators without a license. Most of all, the worries circle around people’s health. As one woman testifies: “I’ve seen some horribly infected limbs; people with whole craters in their arm.“
That does sound bad.
But, in the other corner, seemingly unphased, stands the home pricker. The Vice documentary zooms in on 3 subjects living in the suburbs of Rotterdam: Erik, an unemployed garbage man who turned to home tattoos to earn a living, Karim, an artist who wants to practice his art free of rules and governmental oversight, and a gang of twenty-somethings who see tattoos as a fun way to pass an evening in the company of some cold beer and a joint.
Erik is the most serious about tattooing. He got into tattoos by accident, when his friend asked him to draw some ink on a whim. One thing led to another, and before he knew it he had stumbled onto a market of body art lovers who are looking for bargains and are not afraid to take a gamble on hygiene and quality control. He shows the camera some of his mistakes: “Look, here she moved a bit, and this is where my uncle scared me.”
Still, Erik is confident in his illegal inkpoking. “50 euro for a tattoo is simply too much money for some people. After all, making a tattoo is just drawing some lines. Anyone can do that. And I’ve got free lemonade as well.”
Do I need an art license?
Karim is coming from a different angle. “I just want to do my art,” he says. “If that includes a tattoo machine, then yeah, I will use one.”
He says he understands the professional tattoo artists who have to practice for years and accuse him and his peers of trying to skip a few steps. But for him, things are different. He doesn’t charge any money. For him, it’s about growing as an artist, making something that he can be proud of, and filling the human canvas with beauty that reflects his ideas.
Since a license to be an artist is not necessary yet, Karim does not think he is doing anything wrong.
For the gang of friends that practice home tattoos, art is obviously not an issue. As one of them puts it:”Of course there’s days when you wake up in the morning and you think: shiiiit…actually, I’ve gotten quite a lot of those. But, when I get out of the shower in the morning, I always have to laugh real hard. So that’s good then.”
The arguments they put forward for home tattoos will not convince everyone. According to one “pricker”, if you go to a shop, you have thought about your tattoo for so long that, when you finally get it, you are already sick of it. At home, you don’t have to think that hard.
What happens when something does go wrong? In a licensed shop, all clients sign a contract that they are getting a tattoo out of free will. No insurance company will pay back tattoo regrets or bad drawings, but if the wound gets infected, the tattoo shop’s insurance will cover the medical expenses.
No such luck for clients of the kitchen tattooist, obviously, and with insurance fraud at an all-time high, some regular tattooists are scared those clients might want to pin the blame on them by getting another tattoo. Insurance fees would rise, as would prices for tattoos, raising the possibilty that even more people would opt to tattoo outside of the legal circuit.
Freedom to be noir
In the meantime, the discussion continues on tv and internet forums. Most people are freaked out by the frivolity and nonchalance that characterizes the home prickers. But the home tattoo movement is showing another side of a country that is at times obsessed with rules.
In a place where there is a regulation for pretty much everything, from the size of your windows to the size of your weed, some citizens are looking to regain their personal freedom. Home tattoos offer people a space to be dark, ugly, stupid or sick – in short, everything society does not want you to be, with increasing intolerance for those who still are. Media and advertising pushes us to become the perfect person, to adhere to standards they invented.
Seen from this angle, who does not have some sympathy for those crazy enough to still be different?