San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tattoo convention draws international talent

Most people want to change something about their appearance. Whether it is their frizzy hair, big nose or those extra ten pounds they just can’t seem to shake, few people can honestly say they are completely content with their body.

Self-transformation was the obvious objective of many attendees at the third-annual Paradise International Tattoo Convention at Club Moon in Heredia this weekend. And while most of the body modifications on display were far more extreme than a haircut, the underlying desire to reinvent one’s image was no different. 

“I wanted to change myself,” said Frenchman Lukas Zpira, one of the world’s most well known body modifiers. Covered in tattoos with a line of metal studs protruding from his bald head, Zpira definitely stands out in a crowd. He has four silicon bulges in the center of his chest, his first foray into body modification and an experience that he claims brought him into appreciating body modification as an art.

“I have a background as a painter, and I completely stopped everything I was doing to work on the body,” he said. “I use the body as a medium like I was doing with the canvas.”


A tattoo artist inks up the back of an attendee at the Paradise International Tattoo Festival Saturday.

Lindsay Fendt

While body transformation has been seen in civilizations since ancient times, starting in the mid-90s, mainstream body modification is something relatively new. Fans of the trend can be seen sporting forked tongues, surgically installed metal horns or, more commonly, implants under the skin to change the shape of their bodies.

“The oldest human mummy that you can find already has a tattoo, so that’s nothing new,” Zpira said. “I was inspired by Star Trek or superheroes. I wanted something new, something from the future.”

At the convention, the sound of buzzing tattoo machines mingled with the mix of metal, reggae and salsa pumping through the speakers, a musical amalgam nearly as diverse as its audience. No one seemed out of place in the odd mix of people: Tattooed roller derby girls stood next to mothers holding their babies, burly men with loud motorcycles showed off their bikes outside and artists intently scratched away at their sketchbooks.

“There’s a very tight-knit community between art, graphic art, extreme sports, music and tattoo,” said Chris Collins, owner of Steadfast clothing line, one of the convention’s sponsors.  “Things like this help to develop art at a world level.”

There were 40 stands at the convention selling everything from T-shirts and framed prints to tattoos and piercings. It also featured a skate performance, a demonstration from Costa Rica’s roller derby team, dance shows, fire breathing and even a suspension show where participants hung themselves from the ceiling with hooks. 

The convention brought in 13 international studios, giving attendees the opportunity to get tattoos from practitioners they would have otherwise never met.  The artists featured at the event also attend classes and lectures to hone their skills in tattooing, piercing or body modification. The point being, as Collins said, to raise the standard of the practice as a whole and, maybe, help improve its reputation worldwide.

“This is a time when artists can come and really focus on what it is they do,” said Johann Lopéz, a Tico body modifier and one of the convention’s organizers. “The goal is to help other people realize that this is an art form. It’s something beautiful.”

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