More than just a tattoo shop, City of Ink aims to get back to African roots

City of Ink is one of Atlanta’s most celebrated tattoo shops in Atlanta. Now, with two locations in Castleberry Hill and Edgewood, City of Ink has been tattooing the people of Atlanta since 2007.

Artist and City of Ink co-owner, Corey Davis, began tattooing to provide his peers with affordable art Photo by Brittany Guerin | The Signal
Artist and City of Ink co-owner, Corey Davis, began tattooing to provide his peers with affordable art
Photo by Brittany Guerin | The Signal
Although City of Ink is a tattoo shop, Miya Bailey, founder, shares the story of City of Ink that didn’t come easy and lives past just tattoos.

“We’re way more than that.” Bailey said. “Tattooing is just the element to attract, then the real mission is what we stand for. All visual arts is what we use to attract people.”

Beginnings in ink

Miya Bailey started tattooing in the early ‘90s after he read a book by Don Ed Hardy on tattooing and tattoo culture. In the book Bailey saw Japanese and New Zealand tattoo culture, but African culture was missing.

“I saw this culture in my mind,” Bailey said. “I imagined black people walking around with tattoos and stuff. I was like, ‘Yeah man let’s get back to our roots on how we used to look.’ So I just started doing research on African art and warrior culture. That’s how I got into tattooing.”

Bailey had those dreams before tattoo culture was main stream in the black community. He attributes hip hop and television with the growth of tattoo culture. He didn’t always know how he would contribute to the subculture, he just knew he wanted to help.

City of Ink Locations
Castleberry Hill
323 Walker St. Southwest
Atlanta, Georgia 30313
Open 1 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Old 4th Ward
353 Edgewood Ave.
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
Open 1 p.m. – 10 p.m

“I always looked up to Russell Simmons and what he did with hip hop.” Bailey said. “He’s not the founder of hip hop, but he brought it to a mainstream audience and he created jobs for people using the culture. That was the foundation of my idea with City of Ink, Barry Gordy and Russell Simmons.”

Although Bailey knew what he wanted to do, it took a year of trying to fit in before he found his place.
“It was so wack,” Bailey said. “I did all this ass-kissing trying to get into their events. But the industry is an illusion. You are the person to create your lane and your industry.”

Corey Davis, Co-owner, wanted to provide his peers with art they could afford, so he started tattooing, and together they set out to change the city.

“Let’s just create something brand new,” Bailey said. “It was me Tuki, Corey, Chris and Samba. We would sit down and say, ‘We’re going to create a culture.’ So we were like ‘Hey we going to do this and we going to wear this.’”

Part II

The team struggled to fit in, until the start of City of Ink. It took days of mapping out every detail to their success.They teamed up with Fadia Kader from the ‘Broke and Boujee’ parties in an effort to let everyone know that artists were ballers too.

“This was the era right after BMF (Black Mafia Family). BMF had Atlanta balling out.” Bailey said. “So we thought, ‘What if we show artists balling out with bottles and parties? Then we can include everybody.’”

It was complete with art, a live disc jockey and people who enjoyed the art. After their first art show was a success, Bailey and Davis knew they could change Atlanta forever.

“Art shows would be like that forever cause it set the standard.” Bailey said. “A year after our first show we had our grand opening of City of Ink. Over 500 people showed up so we turned it into a block party. Live art, live music, now everybody wants to turn up at art shows. That’s funny.”

Since their grand opening in 2007, business hasn’t slowed down. People all over Atlanta look at City of Ink as a hub for great art. They were even listed in Creative Loafing’s Best of List in 2013.

“It was really just us consistently putting out the best work we could do.” Davis said. “ I think our art shows have a big influence on the art scene in Atlanta.”

Cultural Renaissance

“We’re clearly the trendsetters for a lot of things.” Bailey said. “City of Ink was just the name given later. But we’ve been around since the ‘90s cultivating this culture in Atlanta.”

Bringing all forms of visual art together, City of Ink is also an art gallery. Local artists’ work covers the walls of each location, and it changes monthly.
“It’s all about creating jobs for younger artists,” Bailey said. “I have a guy who can’t tattoo but he’s a great filmmaker, so he got the opportunity to do film. We’re photographers, painters, illustrators. It’s like a visual arts renaissance. We are all inspired by the next person.”

“We’re kind of the catalysts for creativity amongst black people,” Davis said. “And we also try to give a lot of artists the chance to show off their work, because it’s kind of hard to get into most galleries.”

Even with a room full of artists, each person at City of Ink shines without stepping on each other’s toes, working together to produce their best creations.

“I mean we are the trendsetters; I don’t want to sound egotistical or whatever,” Bailey said. “But there aren’t too many people who create something from nothing.”

2015 marks their eighth year in business, and they will celebrate with their art show titled ‘Enough Is Enough: Part two’. It will take place at the Castleberry Hill location on Feb. 27 and it will feature over 20 artists.

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