La Marca: The first almost-legal Tattoo parlor in Cuba
Cuba is a complicated place. Owning a business there is probably even more so. For Havana residents, tattooing falls in that in-between space of not outright legal, but just tolerated.
Leo Canosa is changing that. In January of 2015, he and his wife opened the what he deems the island’s first “legal” tattoo parlor, in the historic streets of Old Town Havana.
Because you can’t get a tattoo license out there, it sneaks into legal territory by also operating as an art gallery featuring various different kinds of art and activities, even concerts. So the authorities look the other way.
Tattoo's by Leo Canosa
For Canosa, body art is his passion. Leo hopes that, through the exhibitions his gallery presents, it can grow in respectability and cultural importance. He wants tattoos to be considered a legitimate art form.
“It was an old dream of ours, as a couple. For a long time, we wanted to create a place for Tattoos in La Habana, because spaces of that kind don’t exist on the Island,” said Leo in an interview with OnCuba.
“Ese era un viejo sueño de nosotros como pareja. Llevábamos mucho tiempo deseando construir un lugar para el tatuaje en La Habana, porque no existen espacios de este tipo en la Isla” -Leo Canosa
It’s been hard work to keep it running, though. The members of La Marca have to travel often. They get all their supplies out of the country, in the US or Canada, and have to import them back, in only small amounts at a time. It's work that they are passionate about, though, and they are rewarded in the passion they are brewing in their clients.
Tattoo by La Marca artist Robertiko Ramos
Though they see enthusiasm for tattoos growing, La Marca remains the only legitimate parlor around. “It would be great if we had competition,” Canosa said, “That’s what this gallery is about: further developing the idea of tattoos in Cuba, so that others take us as an example.” It’s not playing out like this, however. According to an article in Remezcla, the government continues to crack down on other non-approved tattoo studios.
Since it opened two years ago, the many talented artists at La Marca have given over 2,000 tattoos, 7 expositions, and hosted 5 concerts. Leo is proud of their work.
“It’s incredible how artists arrive from all parts of the world, saying that La Marca shines brighter than their own galleries. And that’s what we, here, live for. We have pumped a lot into this from the beginning.”
“Es increíble cómo han llegado artistas de todos los lugares del mundo diciendo que La Marca luce mejor que sus propias galerías. Y es que aquí vivimos para esto. Le hemos puesto mucha bomba desde el principio.”
You can check out their website, HERE.