Mika Kenyah is aware that the demure tone of her voice is somewhat misleading: her personality is assertive. During her years of working in corporate advertising firms, she often found herself hiding her four tattoos (her two largest: a half sleeve of a phoenix and another half sleeve of a peony flower), but gaining respect with her peers for her professionalism and dependability. When Mika, 28, eventually revealed her body modifications at work, she said she noticed people began to treat her differently, and often times not in the most positive way. “Once I came out with my tattoos, people were shocked. They just kept saying, I can’t believe someone like you has tattoos,” Mika said. “After a while, I noticed some people stopped talking to me.”
Wanting to combat the negative connotations that are associated with tattoos and body piercings, Mika used her advertising and social networking skills to create Sugar & Spikes, a booking and casting agency catered to women of an alternative lifestyle. Currently managing a cast of 15 women, Mika hopes to use her brand to showcase beautiful and talented women with body modification to a larger audience.
“I want people to see that just because a person has tattoos, doesn’t automatically mean that they are lazy or don’t care about life,” Mika said. “We are smart and educated, too.”
Using her platform of female empowerment and event planning, Afropunk recently partnered with Mika to create weekly features of people of color with body modifications.
*** IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE FEATURED, CONTACT MIKA AT MIKA@AFROPUNK.COM ***
Leading up to the Afropunk festival, Mika will also be helping to produce a weekly tattoo modeling contest where the winners will be announced with a 12-month calendar photo spread at the festival.
Words by Whitney Summer
Why do you think people sometimes have negative preconceived notions about people with tattoos?
I think people associate tattoos with loud and outspoken. Most people’s brains think black and white, this way or that way. I noticed that at work, once people found out that I had tattoos, it was hard for me to advance. Like, before they saw I had tattoos they thought I could handle the work.
Is that why you created Sugar & Spikes?
Creating this was important to me. Growing up Black and Spanish, people already had prejudgments about me without getting to know me, from anything to what kind of music I liked to what clothes I should be wearing. A lot of times in corporate, I would do a job great with my work. Once people saw that I had tattoos, they would always be surprised. Overtime, I started meeting a lot of people in the scene who would say the same things I was experiencing, being pigeon holed in their careers because of their tattoos or piercings.
How did you learn about Afropunk?
I approached Afropunk because our demographics are somewhat the same. I focus on women of various backgrounds, getting many Black and mixed girls out there. When I approached Afropunk on collaborating, they were excited. A lot of people that are a part of the Afropunk community I work with already, and we wanted to see what we could do for the festival. At the moment, we are working on a calendar contest for women with tattoos and I am going to help them do that. Leading up to the festival, we'll have people submit their photos, let people vote for their favorites on Facebook, eventually ending up announcing the winners at the festival with a 12- month calendar photo spread.
What are your plans for the Afropunk website?
Right now we’re talking about me developing the tattoo section on the website, with video blogs, interviews and a weekly photo series featuring different people with body art. I’m open to feature both men and women. I’m looking for people who have tattoos, but here is how they contribute to society. The idea is that you can look this way and still function in society. It’s the story about what they are doing with their lives. You know, their work, their everyday struggles, what their tattoos mean to them.
Have you ever regretted having any of your tattoos?
No. People can think what they think, but my tattoos are worth it. Before I had tattoos, I never felt complete. I am a colorful individual. My personality is vivid and visual.
What do your tattoos mean to you?
I currently have four tattoos, two are large, a half sleeve of phoenix flying through clouds and Peruvian lilies. My left forearm is a half sleeve and it is a peony flower in the middle of a stormy ocean. I got that one last November at New York Ink. At one point I was in a verbally abusive relationship and I eventually came to a boiling point. I knew that I needed to take ownership of my life. Give me something that I would be proud of. I also got a frog tattooed on inner bottom lip last week on Ink Masters. That was just something fun. I was fascinated by frogs as a child. I’m also big on my pieces making sense on where they are. My bottom lip is like a lily pad for the frog.
Let’s get back to Sugar & Spikes. Tell us about the early days.
I started my company about five years ago. Knowing a lot of people on the scene, I gathered other girls into rock and roll and wanted a way to create shows where people were having parties and using these girls to liven up the experience. I try to do two events a year, one being a huge fashion show mixed with girls, live bands and good people.
And you’ve always been a fan of punk music?
Yea, I’ve always been a fan of rock, metal and punk. Lately I’ve been listening to the same bands I was listening to in high school, System of a Down, Nirvana and Tool. When I first came to New York, I remember Afropunk shows being in the basement, but it was super hardcore. To see the show go from a basement filled with Black and Hispanic kids, to now seeing it as a festival of thousands of people… it’s amazing. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone.