Julim Rosa has spent most of her life moving around but has now settled in Berlin, working at Pech Schwarz for one year. Concerned throughout her tattoo and contemporary art practice with ideas of permanence, reality, and gender, Rosa has consistently questioned institution and convention. She is eager to continue learning from colleagues and friends in, what she hopes is, a community that continues to grow in terms of inclusivity.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Julim Rosa. I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1988.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I was born to a middle class family in a third world country. I have moved 29 times in my life; my upbringing was constant change. I lived in England and Scotland when I was two years old, then in Santiago, Chile for four years, where I finished High School, then Buenos Aires, and London for studies. I traveled around South America for almost two years, then Buenos Aires for six years, and now Berlin. I learned from a very young age to enjoy the present as much as possible, since the only certainty is that it will change.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I’m currently working in Pech Schwarz in Berlin. Previously I worked in Unikat, also in Berlin, and before that in Shika, back in Buenos Aires. Those are the three tattoo studios who have hosted me as a resident and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunities each of them gave me. Before that, I was part of La Sin Futuro, a contemporary art collective in Buenos Aires, and before that I was running Feriado, a recycling project in South America.
How long have you been tattooing?
I’ve been tattooing for almost five years, though my first tattooing experience was ten years ago with a DIY machine made out of a fork, a pen, the motor of a hair dryer and guitar string (I do not recommend to try this!)
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
When I was 21 I tattooed some friends and my sister with the machine described above, put together following instructions in a YouTube video. I was very happy but my parents were not and confiscated the machine. Even though it was short, that experience was revealing–it made me really want to learn the craft.
Five years later I came back to tattooing because I thought I could make a more stable living from it than from contemporary art (Latin America is very hard for artists). I got so fascinated by tattooing that my whole world changed. Since then every art project I do is also, technically or conceptually, related to tattooing.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
I was very lucky because when I decided to take it seriously and learn the skills I found Esteban, a teacher who I studied with for several months; he taught me the basics over melons and pumpkins in his living room. He was harsh, I remember crying. It sounds like a cliche but I guess that made me stronger. From that point on I learned from other tattooers I had around. I really feel I owe it all to my former colleagues and friends who trusted me with their skin from the beginning. Some of them I still tattoo whenever we cross paths.
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I studied analog photography during my last years of high school in Chile and then fell into Art Direction for advertising, where I learned conceptual thinking and graphic design skills. I quit the advertising industry after one year of working in an agency and applied for art school in London. I finished with a distinction in my foundation course at Saint Martins, but the institutionalization of “art” felt so wrong to me–I was so radical at the time, so hungry for exploration. I dropped out of art school and spent two years hitchhiking around South America instead. That was my real university.
Did that training help as you learned the mechanics of tattooing?
Absolutely. The skill set I had collected through life was crucial in the moment when I started studying the technical part of tattooing. My painting teacher used to tell me, “You carry a backpack with everything you learned” and I used to think “What a weird mix! It will never make sense”. I blamed myself for “wasting” precious time in advertising for example. But then, in some weird way, it all fell into place and I’m grateful for every little part of it. All you experienced before makes you the person you are today. I must say though, I believe the most important skills are not learned in a school or university.
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it?
I develop my style as I develop in life. I think (and hope) it's a never-ending process. I have been tattooing for less than five years, so it’s hard for me to define myself while I’m still learning and at the beginning of my tattoo career. I try to put out there something that is honest and authentic, that comes from the deepest part of me. If I had to describe what I’m producing right now in a technical way, I would say I'm doing conceptual compositions that mix text, the human figure, and distortion. If I had to describe it conceptually, I would say I explore the ideas of reality, permanence, gender, and human existence in general.
Have you had or do you have plans to take on apprentices?
I don’t consider myself in the position to become a mentor yet, I still have so much to learn myself. But I think about the learning cycle a lot; when I wanted to learn there was someone there for me to teach me, and more people there for me to let me practice on their skin, so it would be an honor to be able to give that back at some point in my career.
What do you look for in a shop?
A sense of family, network, and human support. A safe space where everyone in the team can be their true self, and we can project that safety to the humans that come to the space to get tattooed. I also look to be around artists I admire, with more experience than myself, from whom I can learn.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
I am currently working on the hard task of learning to enjoy life. Finding the right balance between work and everything else outside it, so that I can feel present and enjoy every moment. The “hobby” category is hard for me, because it feels in some way less essential than the “main practice”, and I feel like it’s all in some way related and equally important. I love plants, life-drawing, riding my bike, partying in Berlin, and hope to get into learning German soon.
What inspires you generally?
The human experience of this life, fantasy and reality, the enigma of death, the unexplainable perfection of nature, and the smallest things from daily existence.
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
I’ve been working with performance, installations, drawing, painting, video, and sound for the last 12 years. Tattooing appeared in my life and became my favorite, but I still work in other media.
Does working with other media influence how you approach working with the materials of tattooing (ink, skin etc.)? If so, how?
For sure! I don’t think I could ONLY tattoo. I need to do one day of drawing a week where I go back to pencil and paper, study the human body, and have at least one other project running simultaneously. I did a performance piece last July, a T-shirts series, and now I’m working on a series of drawings. Tattooing, its materials, and the body as a canvas is such an amazing thing to explore, but I need video, performance, drawing, sound, and other media for it to make sense.
How do your experiences of contemporary art compare to your experience of tattooing?
I love tattooing and have been obsessed with it for the last five years for the level of presence and intensity the ritual demands. The deep interaction I get to share with my customer, the human on the other side, every day, is so fulfilling. Connecting and collaborating with people at such an intimate level was something that I had never experienced before. I feel the tattooing practice has put my focus on the “other”, the one receiving the tattoo. It’s a much more direct and emotional connection than you get between an artist and a viewer in a contemporary art environment.
Is traveling important to you? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
I generally struggle when I go on holidays for more than a week, since I miss tattooing so much, but at the same time I love exploring new places and cultures. Guest spots are amazing because I can travel and work at the same time, so I try to go and work in cities I’ve never been before. So far I’ve had amazing, unforgettable experiences meeting local humans who are always so welcoming and willing to show me their lives and realities.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
I think the main challenge for us artists today (from any form and media) is the monster of constant validation. Social media feels like we need to put out there something great all the time, every day, just to feel we are part of it and not missing out. I feel the challenge is to give space to our research, growth, and inner processes, which are not constantly instagrammable–it’s such an important part of any artistic practice.
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
I can see how tattooing is becoming more open and inclusive, which I’m very proud of. So many people worked so hard in the last ten years to make this practice safer for everyone. I hope this is not just a trend or a façade and we keep working in this direction. I always dream of a bigger sense of community, with more love for each other as colleagues and contemporaries.
Are there any particular projects or work you would like to mention regarding the increasing inclusivity of the tattoo community? Or anything else you feel it is important to say in relation to this topic?
BERLIN would be my first thing to mention–the queerest most inclusive city I ever experienced and the place I love the most. Of course, Brody Polinsky (@brody_polinsky), Stewart OC (@stewartoctattoo), and their @queer_tattooers platform, which for me was the FIRST sign of a tangible, present and united community of queer tattooers worldwide.
This year we had the honor to experience the first edition of the Queer Tattoo Convention (@queer_tattoo_convention), a project by Ina (@bearadiseink) which gave a physical space and entity to all these amazing humans and their work. It was a big step–from online and small groups gathering to a big event full of love. I hope we keep developing in this direction.
But apart from the queer agents and activists, I think it’s important that we work on increasing awareness and inclusivity from our position as humans in our everyday life. Right now, I don’t work in an exclusively queer studio, but I feel good debating and creating dialogue about gender, identity, discrimination, and other topics with people that are not necessarily part of the queer community. Even if sometimes it’s harder (and I struggled a bit the last year), I still feel it’s part of my mission to question and discuss these topics with people that for sure never felt them as their own struggles, and maybe never even thought about them.