Jul 13, 2021
Doreen Garner is a sculptor and tattoo artist whose work explores society’s relationship with—and destruction of—female Black bodies. In her sculpture, she has challenged the assumptions of the disposability of those bodies. And as a tattoo artist, her work is permanent (or at least as permanent as the person it’s tattooed onto).
As a sculptor, perhaps her most visceral work is 2017’s “White Man On a Pedestal,” which took a deeply critical look at the legacy of J. Marion Sims, a white doctor whose advances in modern gynecology came at the expense of the enslaved Black women he experimented on, often without anesthesia. With her partner Kenya (Robinson), she created elaborate and surreal sculptures of twisted and ruptured bodies made of silicone, which incorporated elements like Swarovskly crystals to signify fat cells.
For 2016’s “The Observatory,” she explored the exploitation of women by placing a performer inside a glass box to maintain eye contact with viewers while immersed in grotesque organic-looking detritus. Her work is not designed to make the viewer feel comfortable.
Garner got into tattoo artistry in 2016 after noticing that the Black experience was never depicted on the walls of tattoo shops. She rejects the assumption that it’s simply “easier” to tattoo on white skin or that tattoos look better on a lighter surface. “When people say it’s more difficult to tattoo Black skin, it’s basically them admitting they prefer to work on white and pale-skinned clients. Every physical body is different and every person’s type of skin is different. Your approach to tattooing shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all,” she said in a 2020 interview with Inked magazine. Today, you can book a private appointment through her Instagram page.