Nana’s Prayers Tattoo Studio offers safe space, Black representation in tattoo industry

Aaron Boehmer, Life & Arts Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the June 7, 2022 flipbook.

The walls in Imani Tatum’s tattoo studio fade from pink to purple, blue to green and yellow to orange. Vintage frames, shelves with antique decorations and dozens of copper Jell-O molds adorn the walls. The waiting room next door welcomes guests with bright teal walls, a retro couch in the corner and a stripper pole standing in the center. 

Sporting hot-pink Dr. Martens, Tatum said she wanted Nana’s Prayers Tattoo Studio to showcase a mix of a dirty punk aesthetic and her grandmother’s house. However, tattooing represents more than just a shop, aesthetics, needles and ink for Tatum. 

“(Tattooing) makes me feel very close to my ancestors,” Tatum said. “In Africa, body modification is how the Indigenous people of the early ancestry would show solidarity amongst each other, identify each other amongst tribes and their placement in the universe. It’s something very sacred that is still transitioning into now, and it makes me feel something special.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2019, around 10% of tattoo artists were Black. Because of these disparities, Tatum said she hopes to foster a space of community for Black tattoo artists and tattoo lovers alike based on a shared love for the art form. In order to do so, Tatum said she opened Nana’s Prayers in the summer of 2021, hoping to make room for herself in a space typically dominated by white men. 

“The tattoo industry is not very diversified right now,” Tatum said. “Because of that, it really challenged me to find my place.” 

Tatum said that her shop creates a home that cultivates a warm and inviting atmosphere for both the artists and customers. She said in a space where Black people typically feel discriminated against and unwelcome, she wants her shop to be a safe space. 

“We’re not just going to be like, ‘Well, this must not be for us,’ because (tattooing) has gone back to the motherland,” Tatum said. “It’s been for us. It’s going to be for us, and we’re allowed to have a space here.” 

Before Tatum, Nana’s Prayers customer Emary Greene had never been tattooed by another Black woman. Greene said the experience brought forward a mutual understanding of the importance of Black spaces and Black creative work. 

“Knowing that there’s a tattoo shop that is very comfortable and very inviting with another Black female artist, … I’m not going to go anywhere else now,” Greene said. 

Tatum’s mission of comfort and safety for Black people reflects her relationship with the shop’s namesake — Evelyn Jackson. Tatum credits Jackson, her nana, as the source of prayers that carried her to this moment in her life. 

“She didn’t provide us with a lot of money, but she’s always just praying and hoping that we will be guided into something that will make her proud and make us proud,” Tatum said. 

Jackson said she feels proud of her granddaughter, as she witnessed her grow from drawing stick figures, to later sketching and painting people, to now tattooing at her own shop. Answering her grandmother’s prayers, Tatum said she feels happy and safe. Now, Tatum looks to secure a more inclusive future within the tattoo industry. 

“I pray that she’s healthy, strong, successful (and that) she’s happy,” Jackson said. “When her journey ends, (I pray that) she can look back and see all that she accomplished and that she’s so proud.”