• November 18, 2021

Stories On Skin

Stories On Skin

Stories On Skin 1024 683 LA County Library

Stories on Skin

Learn about Los Angeles County’s vibrant immigrant population through the most personal of art forms: the tattoo. Different cultures throughout the world have long used tattooing to symbolize their beliefs; however, the motifs, traditions, and techniques vary greatly from people to people. What is the cultural significance of these tattoos, and what stories do they have to tell? Join us for an exciting series of virtual programs exploring the cultural significance of tattoos to LA County’s Chicano, Black and African, and AAPI communities.

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org.

Virtual Programs

Chicanx Tattoo Traditions with Dr. Xuan Santos
Watch now on YouTube.

The style of tattooing called “black and gray realism” has its roots in East Los Angeles’ Chicanx culture. LA native Dr. Xuan Santos discusses the history, aesthetics, and cultural significance of one of the world’s most distinctive, in- demand tattoo styles.

Tattooing the African Diaspora with James Spooner
Watch now on YouTube.

While Black, Indigenous, People of Color are deeply connected to tattoo history, the industry is riddled with misinformation when it comes to dark skin. James Spooner, who specializes in tattooing richly pigmented skin, will dispel those myths, and advise on how to get a quality tattoo. He will also discuss African body modification traditions and their ties to current tattoo practices.

Samoan Tatau and Japanese Irezumi with Sulu’ape Si’i Liufau and Taki Ryudaibori Kitamura
Watch now on YouTube.

Delve into the beauty and tradition of Samoan Tatau and Japanese Irezumi with 2 of its most revered practitioners, Sulu’ape Si’i Liufau and Taki Ryudaibori Kitamura. Discover why these tattoo legacies endure, and their role in the preservation and prosperity of Samoan and Japanese culture.


Dr. Xuan Santos

Originally from Boyle Heights, Dr. Xuan Santos is an Associate Professor in Sociology and Criminology & Justice Studies, and the Executive Director of Project Rebound at California State University San Marcos. Dr. Santos is the recipient of the 2021 President’s Award for Scholarship and Creative Activity. He works closely with formerly incarcerated, justice-impacted, and undocumented students. In addition, as a barrio scholar and former tattoo practitioner, Santos explored the art of tattoos among the Chicanx and Latinx communities in Los Angeles. He published an article titled The Chicana Canvas: Doing Class, Gender, Race, and Sexuality through Tattooing in East Los Angeles in the National Women’s Studies Association Journal. He continues to explore how people resist state social control by tattooing the Chicanx canvas as resistance and autonomy.

James Spooner

James Spooner is a graphic novelist, tattoo artist, illustrator, and filmmaker. He directed the seminal documentary AFRO-PUNK which premiered at national and international film festivals, including Toronto International and The American Black Film Festival. James also co-founded the Afropunk Festival, which currently boasts audiences in the hundreds of thousands around the world. His debut graphic novel, The High Desert (published by Harper), is set for release in Spring 2022.

Taki Ryudaibori Kitamura

Born in Japan, raised in California, Taki Kitamura graduated with a BA in community studies from UCSC in 1994. In 1998, he began tattooing under the artist title “Horitaka” until 2014, after which he took the title “Ryudaibori.” In 2002, he opened State of Grace Tattoo in San Jose, California, and since 2004, has been the co-founder/co-host of 18 Bay Area Tattoo Conventions. Kitamura is the author and publisher of multiple books on tattoo culture and has spoken at UCSB, UCB, VMFA, Asian Art Museum SF, Morikami Museum Florida, Contemporary Jewish Museum SF, Bishop Museum HI, and at conferences worldwide. Kitamura has curated 2 exhibitions for the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Share Your Tattoo Stories

Tattoos are stories, memories, and cultural history. We invite you to share your tattoo story with us. Does your tattoo celebrate your cultural background? Is it in remembrance of a loved one? A design that you fell in love with and needed on your body? Whatever your story, we want to see and hear it! Submit images of your tattoo along with a written narrative of its meaning. Submissions will be reviewed and then posted on our BiblioBoard community collection.

Prefer to share your tattoo stories on social media? Post and tag @LACountyLibrary and use the hashtag #LAStoriesOnSkin.

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