Learning About Mexican Tattoo Culture

Posted by: Mellany Artmstrong

Illustration major Kristin Houtenville ’18 traveled to Mexico City in the summer of 2017 on the Frieda Fehrenbacher International Travel Fellowship 2017. Below are excerpts from her fellowship presentation.

“My proposal was pretty much to get inspired by all the non-traditional art forms in Mexico City and be immersed in the culture. I’m really interested in tattoo art in culture, street art, traditional craft-making, the ancient ruins, and architecture and nature, and Mexico City’s culture.

“I got the idea to go to Mexico City from my trip to Greece (Athens Study Abroad in January 2017). I met Wilson, who is from Mexico City, and Tristan, a French student enrolled in a program that allows him to study in different parts of the world. He was going to Mexico City for his following semester. They made it sound pretty awesome and they explained to me about all the incredible art and culture and how awesome it just is in Mexico City and the people, so I wanted to go.”


“The artists in Mexico City use a lot of symbolism to talk about social issues. What I really like to do whenever I travel is I like to go and learn about the tattoo culture there. Through that, the best way to do it is getting tattooed, and so that way you can talk to the people and learn about the experience, see their process, understand how they got to where they are. By getting tattooed, I learned the process of the apprenticeship is a lot more intense than it is in the States, where they want to see your dedication first, so you have to pretty much clean the shop for six months just to prove that you want this.

“I got tattooed by Filipe Contreras Romera. He explained to me the processes and the culture of tattooing there, which was really cool. Mexico City also has a museum dedicated to tattooing, where they have a lot of different artifacts from all over the world and machines that are makeshift and memorabilia for tattooing. I also went to the Museum of Frida Kahlo, which was pretty incredible. I was really lucky, they were exhibiting all of her clothing, so that was pretty cool. She used a lot of photography throughout her work, and the whole building was just very colorful and filled with nature, and it’s actually her house.”


“I focused on also looking at a lot of street art. All of Mexico City is pretty much art, down to the colors in the buildings. Everything is very colorful. Graffiti is actually a lot more acceptable there, because art there is accessible to the public, so museums are cheaper and graffiti is not frowned upon, necessarily. It’s celebrated, and they commission people to make nice graffiti, so that way it’s not negative.

“Mexico City has a program called Pueblos Mágicos, and it’s an organization that promotes small towns to tourists to show their cultural and historical relevance and beauty. I went to a lot of markets just to look at the craft-making. They sell anything from clothing and crafts to food and just general household needs. I went to the museum of anthropology, where they have a lot of the ancient artifacts from ancient Mexican civilizations, like the Mayans, the Aztecs.

“My trip influences were that I definitely use a lot more color in my design choices now. I’m inspired to learn Spanish and take it seriously and I’ve gained a lot of cultural knowledge from meeting all sorts of people, not only from Mexico City, but other parts of the world.”