Durham tattoo artists balance the scales of tattoo history

By Lorelai Sykes 

Squeezed between barbershops, nail salons and estheticians in a majority Black-owned, shared business space sits Brooklyne Big. Neatly stacked candles with burnt black wicks, cheetahs with daggers hanging from their mouths, and reconfigured cartoon characters with morning stars. The black walls are covered with artwork. The entire space is not much larger than an average bedroom.

Brooklyne Big is a small tattoo studio in Durham, North Carolina. Terin J.D., who uses he/they pronouns, is one of the main artists in the studio. They like to laugh about the name, claiming that while the studio may be small, it is just big enough to hold everything they need. It is a space focused on sustainability and the art of tattooing any and all skin colors.

Ten years ago, when J.D. began their tattoo apprenticeship, they noticed something missing from the industry: images of art on darker skin.

 J.D. is from Indianapolis, Ind. but says that their home is in the Triangle area of North Carolina.

 “But when it comes to the Triangle, I just think it’s a really beautiful place to tattoo,” J.D. said. “And it’s like you ended up having an opportunity to connect with so many different types of clients that are just in the Triangle at that moment.”

It is where J.D. said they were exposed to a large, creative and more inclusive tattoo culture.

“When it comes to people that want to get really good tattoos on brown skin, it is like a really special place for that. For me, and my work,” J.D. said.

Back in the 2010s, their mentor from Louisville, Ky., said his clientele was easily 90% Black but J.D. could not find that population in photographs of tattoos, social media pages or tattoo shop websites across the country. Famous Black athletes and stars were covered in ink, and even J.D.’s friends from home, too.

Even so, the documentation of past and present tattoos seemed clogged with pale skin and styles executed without darker skin in mind.

 “Tattoo Renaissance”

 Tattoos have been a cultural phenomenon for hundreds of years, but in the past six decades, commercial tattooing in the United States has grown considerably. According to Verena Hutter of Dismantle Magazine, the 1960s marked the “Tattoo Renaissance.” Tattoos were no longer regarded as the mark of a menacing biker or circus freak, but as works of art and culture.

Tattoos often borrow art styles from other cultures and do not always give credit back to those communities. For example, Japanese art styles flooded the American tattoo scene at a time when Asian Americans were largely discriminated against.

Well-known tattooers like Ed Hardy also took art styles from Hispanic communities, incorporating them into a misleading “American traditional” style. The American style was built on appropriation and left behind the voices of the original artists.

Due to zoning laws and the taboo around tattoos, studios were popping up in areas as far away from rich white neighborhoods as possible. They were located near liquor stores or gun stores, in areas underdeveloped and largely Black. With that history comes a story largely undocumented and untold: Black tattooing.

“Having brown skin is bold.”

J.D. says that when they entered the industry as an artist, there was still little education on how  to tattoo brown and black skin. Stereotypes and rumors echoed through the industry.

“Even when I got into tattooing and like say the 2010s there was so little education on tattooing brown skin, that people would just do bad jobs, like people artists would just do a bad job on brown skin and they just be like, ‘it’s their skin,’”J.D.  said.

The main misconception about tattooing darker skin is that it is harder or impossible to make it look good.


“So I’ve described to clients like this: having brown skin is bold,” J.D. said. “So when you have a bold thing, to put something on top of that bold thing, you don’t want to take away from the bold thing. And sometimes when tattooing brown skin, doing opposites or doing different things to showcase the brown tone can go really long way. It just requires a tattooer doing more research.”

J.D. said that artists tend to stick to what they know. So, a white artist in a high-rise New York City studio will likely stick to fine lines on pale skin. They might not feel that they need to learn the techniques necessary to tattoo darker skin.

Even if an artist does tattoo darker skin, there is still a stigma around posting those photos on social media.

“I was told for years by owners of tattoo shops, that if they posted on brown skin, they would look like they do cheap tattoos because they were afraid that if they posted on brown skin, people would think that Black people could afford to go there. It was more of a fear that they may lose some of their white clientele if they post too many tattoos on brown skin,” J.D. said.

That is why Brooklyne Big is such a sacred space. It is devoid of these misconceptions and stereotypes. Now, J.D. is working with Phoebe Powell, who uses she/they pronouns, is only 21 years old and is his former apprentice.

“I am definitely held to a different expectation.”

Powell began working with J.D. after J.D. did a coverup of what Powell called an awful neck tattoo. They tell the story between puffs of Camel Blue 99s. After that, Powell started working for J.D., where Powell assisted with events and gave themself “the shittiest tattoos” as practice before earning their spot tattooing alongside J.D. 

Powell is also from Ind., and growing up Black in a red state was difficult for them as well.

“When I was in high school, I was in the marching band. We went to the Lucas Oil Stadium to do our performance and I knelt for the national anthem and there was this person who really didn’t like that. They said they wanted to lynch me in their backyard.”

Powell and J.D. echo the same point: that entering the industry as a Black, queer person is just as difficult today as it was 10 years ago. The two constantly feel pressured to produce work at a higher level because of the standard they are held to by white folks in the industry.

“I am definitely held to a different expectation,” Powell said. “They want it for the cheapest and they want it done very efficiently. They don’t ask that from any other person besides Black tattooers, especially Black queer ones. I have to be better than a lot of people just to get validation.”


J.D. explains that in the early years of their tattooing, they could not make a living off of art alone. They add that many Black artists have to lower their prices for clientele, and clients often demand to see a larger amount of quality work to soothe racial biases.

Despite these barriers, a 5-star rating on Google reads:

“I had a great time with Phoebe. My tattoo looks exactly like I imagined, and I felt very well taken care of and safe during my experience. Highly Recommend!”

Edited by Katie Lin and Matherly Collins

From refugee to restaurateur: Med Deli owner creates community

By Kate Carroll

 “The older you get, the more you remember”

A crowd gathered in anticipation under the olive trees outside the Rafedya refugee camp in the West Bank.

Seven-year-old Jamil Kadoura watched from the outskirts with his mother. It was 1967, and the Israeli-Arab war had forced Kadoura’s family out of their home in Jerusalem. 

In their makeshift blanket-tent, Kadoura and his mother strategized over how to get their hands on a bag of food from the upcoming United Nations supply drop-off. 

Kadoura’s mother sent him into the crowd as the sounds of tires approached.

When the van doors slid open, chaos commenced. While bags of food flew through the air, Kadoura found himself underneath a stampede. 

“Hey, get away! There’s a child on the ground!” an older man in the crowd shouted.

He pulled Kadoura out from the trampling while the rest of the crowd continued. 

“It’s funny, the older you get, the more you remember your childhood,” the now 62-year-old Kadoura said. “You’ll realize that later in life.” 

Twelve chairs, six tables

 He reminisced from a table in the Chapel Hill location of his restaurant, Mediterranean Deli and Catering, while his employees prepared for a busy lunch service. The locals just call the place ‘Med Deli.’

There’s still food flying, but today it’s bags of pita for a catering order. There are still vans, but Kadoura owns them — nine of them, to be exact. 

The Arab-Israeli war ebbed throughout Kadoura’s childhood. He attended United Nations refugee schools in the West Bank and Israel-occupied Jerusalem before deciding to travel to the U.S. after high school to continue his education.

At 18 years old, Kadoura landed in Minneapolis, M.N.; he had a nephew living there. 

It was early December, and from the plane, Kadoura could see that a heavy blanket of snow covered the ground. 

“I look out the window,” Kadoura said. “And I said ‘oh, you are kidding. I’m not coming to live here.’” 

He was wearing a T-shirt. 

Kadoura enrolled in the Minnesota School of Business and worked in hospitality to pay for school. After several promotions, he decided not to finish school and instead invested his time in the food and beverage industry. 

A promotion brought him to Durham, N.C., where he worked as a food and beverage director for several hotels — the highest position in the game.

His friends warned him about the South for its conservatism and prejudice. 

“I just make myself not see it,” Kadoura said. “Because if you see it, you keep thinking about it, you don’t go anywhere in life.”

After meeting his wife, Angela, and settling into the area, Kadoura was ready to run his own business.

In 1992, with $16,000 of starter money, Kadoura opened the first Med Deli on West Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. It had 12 chairs, six tables and one six-foot deli case. 

“Everything that the business made, I put it back in the business,” Kadoura said. 

Now, Med Deli has a booming catering business and three restaurant locations with many more tables, chairs, and deli cases. Kadoura said he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support he found in Chapel Hill. 

“I call on the community, the community comes”

 “I started getting to know the community,” he said. “I can honestly tell you, this is one of the greatest communities. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and I don’t want to raise my kids anywhere else.”

As soon as Kadoura started seeing success at Med Deli, he knew it was time to give back. 

“I think that living in the refugee camp has a lot to do with it — with all my old memories of people running to save the poor people with catastrophic problems,” Kadoura said. “I think it has something to do with the people who helped me before, because automatically, you want to give, too.”

In addition to supporting local charities and student groups, Kadoura and his team have been organizing larger fundraisers for refugees and crisis relief for years now. Most recently, Med Deli hosted a fundraiser following the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. 

“I call on the community, the community comes,” Kadoura said. “People trust us, and people value us, and people just love us, and we love them. So whenever I do a fundraiser, they just swarm the place.” 

The one-day fundraiser raised $30,000 for those affected by the earthquakes.

“He said, ‘I’m donating all of the sales. A hundred percent of the sales for the whole day,’” Catering director Liz Coughlin said. “I mean, literally, he didn’t even think about it five minutes before it came out.”

Before Kadoura hires a new employee, he always gives them the same advice. 

“Don’t work here because you want to stay here the rest of your life.” 

Many of Kadoura’s employees are also immigrants. He hopes that the community at Med Deli will enable them to build a stronger future for themselves.

“Our employees are paid well, but they need more than that,” Kadoura said. “They need opportunities in life. They need a coach that can advise them and show them the way.”

For Kadoura, that means signing a 10-year lease to help his chef of 14 years open his own restaurant.

It also means hiring a homeless man who came in for meals and welcoming him into his own home. 

It means setting up meetings with a Spanish-speaking realtor to help long-time employees to buy a home of their own.

“That, I think, comes from an individual themselves, which is me, myself,” he said. “It doesn’t come from being a business, it comes from you as a person.”

He shares his spirit of generosity with his employees, including his 24-year-old daughter Ambara, who is learning the ropes of the business after graduating college. 

“It’s always important to just give,” Ambara Kadoura said. “I really believe that’s the biggest thing. I swear to God, he instilled that in me and my siblings. And you know, it’s always gotten us so far.” 

At 62, Jamil Kadoura is still working every day, but he’s happy to take a backseat to his younger employees. 

“They all kill me now,” he said. “I go to the back there and they go ‘Patrón, get out of the way!’ Like, I’m too slow for them.”

Kadoura got up from the table while employees carrying trays of hummus and tzatziki paraded out to a catering van. 

Before returning to work, Kadoura had one request.

“Before you leave, I want to get you some lunch,” he said. “And make sure you don’t leave without it.”

Edited by Mattie Collins and Katie Lin


‘The poetry of agriculture’: Fricks Apiaries shows love to Chapel Hill through beekeeping

By Isabella Braddish

February weather is a guessing game for residents of the Tar Heel State. One day, it’s snowfall. The next, a beautiful 60-degree day that calls for an extended lunch break.

Conditions may be unpredictable, but North Carolina apiarists — also known as beekeepers — start their seasonal work on February 1. Rain or shine.

Chapel Hill residents Guy and Ingrid Fricks began their beekeeping careers when they purchased two bee hives in early 2000s and opened Fricks Apiaries. Following a move from Carolina Beach, the couple became invested in protecting the local environment and building a community of honey enthusiasts

A former yacht carpenter, Guy Fricks turned to beekeeping — a practice he said is a dying art. A proverb has circulated in the hearts and minds of the couple since moving to Chapel Hill.

“Beekeeping is the poetry of agriculture,” Guy Fricks said. 

Nothing short of necessary’

In the United States, more than one-third of all crop pollination requires some sort of insect pollination. Therefore, bees aid in the production of about one-third of the food supply. They also help prevent soil erosion. Without the presence of bees, the diversity and availability of fresh produce would drastically decline. 

“Beekeeping is nothing short of necessary for this world we live in,” Guy Fricks said. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that bees and butterflies help pollinate approximately 75% of the world’s flowering plants. Not only do bees pollinate roughly 35% of the world’s food crops like fruits and vegetables, but they are responsible for providing stable ecosystems for other animals and insects.

The process of pollination provides stability in numerous ecological settings. 

“For decades, honey bee populations have been on the decline,” Guy Fricks said. “From pesticides to parasites to destruction of habitats, they just can’t seem to catch a break.” 

This perpetual decline has been occurring for some time. But in recent years, the decline of pollinators has dramatically worsened, largely due to a phenomenon that the United States Environmental Protection Agency calls  “Colony Collapse Disorder,” or CCD.

CCD occurs when environmental circumstances or human intervention cause worker bees to flee the hive, leaving behind the queen bee and the remaining honey supply.

‘Innovative? Always.’

After learning just how powerful beekeeping is in terms of environmental sustainability, Guy Fricks said he decided to translate his interest into a business.

This drive resulted in the genesis of a full-time family venture that revolves around community, passion, dedication, and sustainability. To Guy Fricks, it also ensures the future of local beekeeping. 

“Innovative? Always. Boring? Never,” Guy Fricks said. 

The Chapel Hill-based farm offers an array of products and services that revolve around the beauty of bees and the art of beekeeping.

Fricks Apiaries produces and sells raw, unfiltered honey from honeybees that forage across Orange, Chatham and Alamance Counties. It sells raw local honey, creamed honey, comb honey, bee pollen, handmade beeswax candles and other hive products.

The farm also sells N.C.-raised queen bees from their locally-adapted stock, typically available from April to September. To ensure continued demand for beekeeping in the area, the family offers pollination services to farmers from February to September. 

For $40 plus shipping fees, patrons can buy Carniolan or Italian Queens, the two most common N.C.-raised queen bees. Fricks Apiaries prides itself on its honeybee selection, Guy Fricks said, as its stocks are selected to thrive in North Carolina while resisting pests and diseases.

‘Nothing quite like their honey’

For the benefit of patrons’ health and individual wellness, the honey from Fricks Apiaries is completely raw and unfiltered, which allows for the honey to retain its pollen particles and natural enzymes.

One of the apiary’s products, freeze-dried bee pollen, has a long history of medicinal use. Propolis is a resin-like material that honeybees father from bark or buds and mix with their wax. Medicinal use of this substance dates back to ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations, where it would be used for its healing properties. 

Loyal customer and Chapel Hill resident Mary Voelkel was quick to rave about the quality products Fricks has to offer. 

“There is nothing quite like their honey,” Voelkel said. “Not only is local honey crucial for allergy sufferers like myself, but it also tastes amazing.” 

Another customer, Carolina Ramirez, was eager to offer tips for consuming Fricks’ honey. 

“Honey is one thing,” she said. “But hot honey seriously changes the game. You can put it on anything and see how it instantly transforms a flavor profile immediately.” 

Fricks Apiaries’ products can also be found at fan-favorite shops such as Maple View Farm Ice Cream. 

“Those products sell out quite often and definitely seem to be a hit,” a spokesperson for Maple View said. 

Although Guy and Ingrid Fricks said they love to see customers enjoying their products, they urge buyers to understand how important the art of beekeeping is in sustaining a fully-functioning and lively environment. 

“We need to put environmental issues at the forefront of more minds,” Guy Fricks said. 

As both local and global populations increase, bees are essential in providing a sustainable and constant source of diverse agriculture. 

Local beekeeping and businesses like Fricks Apiaries are one piece of conservation efforts in North Carolina and across the county. Their efforts are possible only with the support of the community.

“It all starts and ends at the individual level,” Guy Fricks said. “We need people to really care about this cause because its effects can be seen both at the micro- and macro-level.”

Edited by Allie Kelly and Mattie Collins