Get to Know Girl Knew York

Mira Mariah, best known as Girl Knew York is an unapologetic, frank and powerful woman, and one of NYC’s most in-demand tattoo artists.

Words by Iman El Kafrawi

Previously working as a fashion illustrator, Mira Mariah discovered her love for contour drawing. Taking inspiration from the likes of Jean Cocteau and Picasso, she reshapes traditional figures to reflect real bodies, celebrating the diversity of women’s bodies through ink. Currently working at Fleur Noir tattoo parlour in Brooklyn and as a queer, disabled mother, her mission is to show there are so many different ways to be a woman. We caught up with Mira to talk about motherhood, identity, body diversity and the power of inking.
 

To me, your work releases a lot of emotion and a sense of power — can you tell us a bit more about this and the story behind your figures?

I’m a really emotional and dramatic person and as a woman or a femme that’s something that we’re kind of told is a negative. To me, it isn’t! I love those things about myself and I really wanted to celebrate them, celebrate my indulgence in my own emotion and the women around me that I care so much for. They accomplish so much but were made to feel like they shouldn’t indulge in their emotions or celebrate them.

Has your art played a role in your identity?

I think that questioning and settling into one’s identity is really healthy, some identities are temporary and some are permanent. It was cool to become more vocal about being a disabled Latina queer woman and what that means, as well as displaying imagery that reflects that in an art. I associate art and luxury together, but there are barriers that say that luxury doesn’t belong to queer disabled Latino people and women, so reclaiming that is really important to me.

How do you get inspired?

I’m a mother, so the act of mothering has been really inspiring to me and has had a great effect on my career, my art and my life. My life is very much filled with women; my mother and sisters play an integral role in my life, my girlfriends and chosen family also do too; that kind of tight-knit female connection really gave me the ability to see them in so many different ways.

What is it about inking the body that interests you?

A lot of stuff happens to our bodies that we don’t have any control over. I’m disabled, and that was something that I had a little control over, part of it was a birth defect. To do something to your body where you make the decision and you make the call, was really special to me.

I’m very much interested in fashion and beauty, and tattoos are just a beauty ritual to me. I don’t think of it as anything different from having your eyebrows done or having your lips injected. I don’t think those things are negative. Those are the things I do and I enjoy doing, so that being a part of beauty is important to me.

In a way — tattoos can be not only a form of expression but also a way for people to connect with their bodies. Has having tattoos yourself changed your relationship with your body in any way?

Oh, yeah, I think it’s dramatically changed my relationship with my body. Going back to being disabled and being poked, prodded and everyone thinking they know what you should be doing to be better, tattoos become my way of reclamation. They give me power to say, okay — I made this decision, so I can make more decisions about how I’m going to interact with my body.

I associate art and luxury together, but there are barriers that say that luxury doesn’t belong to queer disabled Latino people and women [like myself], so reclaiming that is really important to me

Mira Miriah

In a way — tattoos can be not only a form of expression but also a way for people to connect with their bodies. Has having tattoos yourself changed your relationship with your body in any way?

Oh, yeah, I think it’s dramatically changed my relationship with my body. Going back to being disabled and being poked, prodded and everyone thinking they know what you should be doing to be better, tattoos become my way of reclamation. They give me power to say, okay — I made this decision, so I can make more decisions about how I’m going to interact with my body.

How would you describe your relationship with your body?

I think that I as I get older, I become more and more confident —and as women, we’re told that the opposite is gonna happen. We’re told we’re at peak beauty at 21 and then we’re going to spend the rest of our lives attempting to salvage what was there at 21. I feel the opposite, I spend a lot of time with women who feel the opposite. It seems to be that the older we get, we become more comfortable and excited about our own bodies, we learn and accept that all our bodies are different.  The more we know — she’s pretty; I’m pretty, we’re pretty — it becomes much less of a competition and more of a form of self-acceptance.

You take on a lot of inspiration from ‘traditional’ woman figures and reshape them to become more representative of all women. Can you tell us more about this and its importance to you?

Living your whole life feeling like an alien because you think you’re the only woman built this way or the only woman looking that way is not healthy and not productive. It’s my mission to just really remind everyone that there are so many different ways to be woman and so many different ways to be glamorous. Some women are fat, some women have penises, some women are quite thin. To vary that in the art world where we’ve only really seen a singular image of women, I think would be very helpful to my fellow women.

What are your thoughts about representation within tattoo culture?

Images of women and tattoos over the last 20 years have been pretty much images of women in comic books. Totally unrealistic, huge breasts, big soft lips — these really yearning faces. If you’ve seen my work, I’m down for a yearning face. I think that’s fun and like there’s no shame in big boobs. I have big boobs and yeah, they’re great but I think the women that we’re getting tattooed on our bodies have to be as diverse as the women in our day-to-day lives. Fetishising this single way of being a women is not healthy for even the women who do fit into that role.

How can people create safer spaces for marginalised people?

I’m so excited to see spaces come up for queer people and for disabled people and for all different kinds of people. I’ve been warmly welcomed by all kinds of women — women of colour, queer women, women of all different kinds of sexual orientation and physical ability and size.

But when I’m watching television, I always see this like big burly biker guy doing tattoos. I was recently watching a TV show with a friend and they had this biker giving all these tattoos and I was thinking; it’s not so funny. That’s what a tattoo artist looks like…and I’m sitting next to them, in my nightgown and pink fuzzy slippers. I couldn’t have been more on brand at that moment. This is what a tattoo artist looks like in real life. It’s the disconnect in media — we think a tattoo artist is going to be as far away from what it is. When I meet tattoo artists, they come in every variety! There is that biker guy but he’s not the only one in the room. My knowledge is limited by the identities in which I fall in, I need to learn from women whose personal experiences are different from mine.

What about accessibility?

A heads-up and transparency about accessibility when I’m entering a space is always the most helpful. When entering a space I question; is there a staircase there? Is there a place I can rest? Is my tattoo artist going to listen to me? Those are all important.

You’re open with your disability online — do you think that social media has the power to create visibility?

I think social media is wonderful. I really do. I love social media. I love being online and I think the power of social media lies in the hands of the person holding it to a certain degree. I talk a lot about diversifying your feed. If your feed only has one particular view of a woman you are going to start feeling kind of bad about yourself if you don’t subscribe to that kind of woman. There are so many different kinds of people with different messages and such a variety, which is why diversifying your feed can be so powerful.

As a mother — what advice do you have for other mothers?

The thing about mothering is that it’s really hard to give advice because every child is different. The best advice I always give everyone is just find your own way. Whatever works for you is what’s best for you and your kid, as long as everyone is fed, loved and happy.

Margo has been on set with me. She’s seen me tattoo and she sees me for all that. She knows that whatever she wants to be, she can be, and I make sure that she meets a variety of women. She spends time with women who are different. She sees women running businesses and managing their time in their own way and being fat and being queer and being vulnerable at times, and she sees that as normal.

To me, parenting her has been just to not keep my personality a secret from her. I think there’s a lot of pressure to pretend you’re a role model rather than just be who you are and let your kid make their own decision about that.

What do you hope for the future?

I really just hope for inclusion, love and diversity — and I know that sounds cheesy. Seeing a woman from the Bronx sitting in a congress chair made me cry to be honest. I didn’t know that you could wear hoop earrings and red lipstick and sit in congress and assert yourself and have power. That means so much to me. More of that is my goal. The further we get into accepting ourselves — the less it becomes something we need to actively take on and off every day.

There are also a lot of environmental things that are really important to me. I obviously want people to cut down on eating meat, and I want people to stop being violent, especially in romantic situations. I think domestic violence is a huge issue that we believe we are past. We’re not talking about it and then what happens to us? We think we have failed as feminists, so we don’t discuss it.

Keep up to date with Mira Mariah and her work via Instagram, @GirlKnewYork

Photography Clare Worsley
Styling Sharifa Morris
MUA Yuui Vision
Hair Nevada Styles
Produced in partnership with Holyrad Studio, Brooklyn

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