Flori Green: Making a Place for Female Tattoo Artists in Cambodia
Flori Green’s career in hand-poke tattooing feels like happenstance—an artistic endeavor that pulled her in with its magnetism and kept her working hard to create delicate dotwork on the skin.
Green is the co-owner of Studio Green Hand, a private tattoo studio and artist space in the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh. While there
“The perception of tattoos in Asia is very different according to the country,” says Green. “For instance, in Thailand they are very much accepted, on both male and females. In Cambodia, there is still the stigma that tattoo equals gangster.”
But Green is committed to changing the perception of what it means to be a tattoo artist in a city where there are very few women practicing the art professionally.
Travelling Created a Tattoo Career
Green is originally from France and she lived and worked in London before she started traveling around Southeast Asia in 2015. When she landed in Cambodia, a friend asked her for a tattoo—a skill that Green did not know how to do.
But Green’s interest was piqued and she heavily researched the ancient hand-poke technique. She slowly taught herself how to tattoo and used her own hands for practice. Eventually, she fulfilled her friend’s request by delivering her first hand-poke tattoo on someone other than herself.
Shortly after, Green says she was robbed and found herself in financial distress. She couldn’t travel back to London or France, and says she was lucky to have friends who helped her get back on her feet. “I bet everything on tattoos,” she says. “I started selling small designs for a small price and slowly my reputation grew and more people were interested.”
Even when she recouped the money for a plane ticket back to Europe, Green says that there was no question she would stay in Phnom Penh. “What I like about this city is the way it has to be chaotic and organized at the same time,” she says. “Plus the abundance of artists here is incredible and the community is very helpful.”
Sticking to the Hand-Poke Method
Green says that she enjoys producing hand-poke tattoos with a single needle over using a machine. While she’s tried both methods, Green appreciates the quiet energy of the hand-poke process.
“The healing is so much faster and the whole experience is very quiet which makes it, in my opinion, more relaxing for the customer and artist,” she says.
Green, who looks up to other well-known hand-poke artists including Grace Neutral, says that in the beginning she faced some judgemental behavior due to the fact that she’s self taught. But any criticism or negative blowback is something she easily brushes off. “Today, I believe that my work speaks for itself,” Green says.
The Changing Face of Tattooing in Cambodia
It’s not lost on Green that she’s a minority in Phnom Penh. “We can see some men with tattoos, but it is much rarer on women,” she says. “So imagine a Khmer female tattoo artist? Not yet.”
But that doesn’t mean Green isn’t optimistic about where the tattoo artform is heading in the city and the rest of the country. She sees things slowly starting to change. “I do have more and more Khmer women coming to me for a tattoo,” she says. “Usually, their husbands know and agree about it, but their families never will.”
For this reason, Green explains, most Khmer females that visit her shop choose placements that are easily hidden.
Green, who wears her own tattoos proudly, hopes that her career serves as inspiration for other female artists who want to take up tattooing as a trade. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a tattoo artist 4 years ago, so thinking about opening a tattoo studio in Phnom Penh seemed like an unachievable dream,” she says. “I wish to see a new generation of tattoo artists emerge composed of both females and males. I do hope that perceptions will change one day.”