Chavonna "Bang" Rhodes is full of contradictions. The 28-year-old is quiet, but undeniably feisty. She is thoughtful with her words, yet a little rebellious in her nature. And the Atlanta-based artist is a black woman who tattoos. Though that last point shouldn't be a contradiction in a perfect world, it is a contradiction in our world. The tattoo industry, after all, is notoriously dominated by white men. But Bang is determined to change the standard and create space for black woman in the profession.
Bang got her name in middle school. Yes, it was due to the kind of after-school fight you see in the movies. Bang and her cousins won. But it was also due to her short bangs that made her look like less like a budding boxer and more like the preteen she was.
The name has grown with Bang, and her personality, throughout her adult life. In conversation with Katie Dupere, she shatters the highest of expectations with a "bang." Her confidence is unwavering, fierce, and attention-grabbing like an unexpected clash of sound. And she'll throw some proverbial (or actual) punches if you try to keep her down. She is Bang. And she's the truest definition of a rebellious rule breaker.
Katie Dupere: What do you think makes you a Rule Breaker?
Chavonna Rhodes: The fact that I don’t play by the rules — but don’t get it twisted, I don’t cheat either. I consider myself unique and stand out from other artists and just other people in general. I have pushed through the social stigma of being a black artist and used being a black female artist to my advantage, making me unique and standing out from the rest of the white-dominated tattoo community.
Not only am I able to create art, but I’m able to create a permanent work of art that will last forever and be seen by so many people.
KD: What do you like most about tattooing?
CR: It’s a way for me to express myself and be creative. Not only am I able to create art, but I’m able to create a permanent work of art that will last forever and be seen by so many people. How dope is it to have your work walk around and take on a life of its own?
KD: Tattooing is known as a very white, very male profession. How did you work to carve out space for yourself in the industry?
CR: I use my identities to my advantage. Being black and being a female is unique in this game. But I knew that I had two be twice as good just to earn the respect from this community. I worked harder worked smarter, paving my own way and making a name for myself.
KD: Can you think of a particularly telling time when you were underestimated for being a black woman in the industry?
Imposter syndrome? Never that. I know who I am as a person and as tattoo artist. I’ve never doubted my ability to do anything I’ve set my mind to.
CR: One time, a white man came in to a shop I was working at and asked for a tattoo. I was free and the people working there knew I was the best person for the job, so they gave it to me. When I walked out of the back room, he said, "Oh, she's going to tattoo me?" Like, he clearly didn't like that I was a black woman. I said, "Yeah, you have a problem with that." In the end, he let me do the tattoo and I fucking killed it like I knew I would.
KD: Do you ever have imposter syndrome? If so, how do you push past it?
CR: Imposter syndrome? Never that. I know who I am as a person and as tattoo artist. I’ve never doubted my ability to do anything I’ve set my mind to. I don’t get discouraged by other artists more talented to me. I look at it as motivation and friendly competition to be a better artist.
KD: There are many tattoo artists who won’t tattoo on dark skin. What would you say to artists who turn away black clients?
CR: For those artists who turn down dark skin, y’all are lame as hell, lack the skill and knowledge, and just overall scared to take on a challenge and take the time to understand the technique behind tattooing dark skin. Perfect your craft by being able to tattoo all skin types. Nothing is better than a versatile artist with a versatile portfolio.
KD: What’s the most rewarding thing that’s come from being a black woman in the tattoo industry?
Don’t be afraid to take on this career. We need more black women in this community.
CR: The most rewarding thing that has come from being a black woman in this industry is being able to tell my story and have others listen, being able to express myself creatively and people supporting me every step of the way. Being able to hold my own — having only six years total in the game — and making a name for myself is the biggest reward.
KD: What would you say to other black women who want to tattoo?
CR: Don’t be afraid to take on this career. We need more black women in this community. Be smart from the start. Start with an apprenticeship, and the rest will come naturally.
KD: What's the rule of adulthood that you break most often?
CR: The best part of being an adult is that there are no rules. Right?
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.