This ‘pinktober’, breast cancer awareness month, Vyvyn ‘Madame’ Lazonga, the trailblazing tattoo artist from Seattle spoke with the South West Londoner about the healing powers of tattooing.
Vyvyn opened her tattoo parlour in 1979 and since 1985 she has specialised in reconstructive tattooing post-mastectomy.
She said: “An important part of the tattooing process, post-mastectomy, is creating and discovering a design that is flattering to the client, one that enhances and honours her female form and natural sense of curvature, as natural breasts would do.
“Tattooing can help facilitate the emotional healing process after breast cancer and as a woman, I’m nurturing. I’ve always looked at tattooing as a healing kind of thing.”
Vyvyn shares her mastectomy cover-up artwork on Instagram as these pictures have been deemed inappropriate and banned from Facebook.
As a pioneering woman, Vyvyn has experienced stigma throughout her career.
NURTURING: Vyvyn in 1978, photo credit George Foster
She said: “I was an anomaly, a few times I paid the price for that socially and a few times I’ve been kicked out of restaurants for having tattoos.”
When Vyvyn started tattooing, it was generally perceived as an off-beat and initiating practice.
She said: “For my first tattoo, they didn’t have much choice for design. I didn’t want any roses so I ended up getting a skull and bat wings on my arm.
“When I was taking the bus downtown the kids would want to pick a fight because they thought I was tough.
“Being a woman, people could not figure out what category to put me in, it really disturbed them.”
As one of the first women tattoo artists, Lazonga took tattooing down a different path; she turned something intimidating into something nurturing.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women, with 1 in 8 being diagnosed in their lifetime, and a report from the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative said women with breast cancer may need support due to traditional symbols of feminine sexuality being challenged by treatments.
After decades of tattooing, Vyvyn suffers with carpal tunnel but will be taking on new clients from 2019 and she continues to inspire many tattoo artists and breast cancer survivors.
Feature image from Vyvyn’s Instagram, with thanks
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