Since May, Mariah has been known as Grande's go-to tattoo artist, inking her with the bumblebee tattoo she got behind her ear to honor Manchester victims and, most recently, that giant Spirited Away tattoo. Now Mariah's even tattooing Grande's fiancé, having just tattooed an image of the couple's new pet pig onto Davidson's side last week.
But the 26-year-old, who works out of the tattoo parlor Fleur Noire in Brooklyn and has more than 60,000 followers on Instagram, is much more than her friendship with Ariana and Pete. She's got a whole story of her own to tell, involving disability and a mission to celebrate diverse women with her ink. The following interview was told to Rachel Lubitz and edited for length and clarity.
Getting Her Start, Because Feminism
"I used to work in fashion, and I love fashion, but then I started to realize that I wasn't seeing feminine tattoos like I wanted to. I wanted to bring in new elements, like classic art and women we all really admire.
"As soon as I started apprenticing at a studio in 2014, I realized that [tattooing] combined so many of my loves. I love illustrating. I love sewing, and in a way, tattooing is like sewing with ink. I love collaborating with people. A lot of people talk about the way tattoos transform their relationship with their body, and I have a constantly changing relationship with my body."
How Disability Affected Her Career
"I was born with a birth defect, but didn't end up losing my leg until I was 17. I contracted a staph infection from a corrective surgery for the birth defect. I had a lot of surgeries to fix what was wrong with my leg over the years, and it felt like I was in chronic pain. There were a lot of complications. But there weren't many solutions, and I decided to amputate my leg to allow me to have a healthier gate and be able to walk.
"A year ago, I would have said my disability doesn’t affect my career at all. But as I grow, and I learn to live in this body, and I accept my own limitations, I can say it affects my career in logistical ways. I've had to send emails saying, 'I'm in too much pain, and I cannot tattoo you today.' That forced transparency creates a new relationship with my clients that is more open."
Celebrating Diversity With Her Ink
"I use a lot of Renaissance and fine art references, but I draw them as fashion illustrations. I also try to draw very real bodies. This summer I got to do a bunch of Klimt pieces, which I loved, and in one I got to change the hair into an Afro."
"For a long time, I did references on the Venus [as in 'The Birth of Venus'], and we did a lot of tributes to her based on the woman who was getting the tattoo. So, I gave her more Black features or made her curvier or thinner to relate to the wearer. That seems really important and appropriate as we normalize 'normal' body types [like plus-size and disabled women]. This is what I see when I walk down the street. It’s women of all different styles and flavors. That should be in tattoos, too. We want to see tattoos of women we love, as they actually are."
A Fan Base Dedicated To Girl Culture
"I think people resonate with my artwork because it’s plants and animals and girls — who doesn’t love that? I do a lot of references to girl culture, like mom jeans and the Venus. I try to make my art commentary on girl culture. Like, I post a tattoo of a girl with a towel on her head and a face mask, smoking a cigarette, and there's all these girls who comment, like, 'Oh that’s me!' It brings women together.
"As a disabled person, it’s really hard to predict if I'll be able to do the physical labor of tattooing when I'm older, because I have a lot of things that affect my way of life. But I get so much joy out of this. I hope I'll be able to tattoo forever."