At underground parties, it's not unusual to see people in novelty contact lenses, which can re-create the golden glare of a tiger or the blue-in-blue of a Dune Fremen. Some body-modders, however, wish to have their eyes permanently colored -- and are experimenting with a technique that makes this possible.
"Eyeball tattoos" (technically, ink injections into the sclera or whites of the eyes) are a relatively new extreme body modification. They have garnered more controversy than Japanese Bagel Heads because the look is striking and irreversible, and the long-term effects on vision are unknown.
To get a better understanding of the process and risks, I sat down with respected body modification artist Russ Foxx who has done a number of eyeball tattoos for clients. Located in Vancouver, Canada, he spends much of his time traveling around the world modifying people, performing, teaching and learning.
Portrait of Russ Foxx by Syx Langemann
Can you give me some historical background on eyeball tattooing?
About six years ago in Toronto, Ontario, the late Shannon Larratt and Howie (LunaCobra) pioneered the "eyeball tattooing" (or "scleral tattooing") procedure through trial and error, with the help of Paul Mowery and the late Josh Rahn. Since, there has only been a small number of artists internationally that have began practicing this experimental body modification procedure.
What intrigues you about eyeball tattooing, and how did you get into it?
The eyes are a strong communication tool and are always seen. The contrast and relationship between a person's natural iris color and the scleral tattoo can create all sorts of amazing and beautiful effects. For example, tattooing the sclera solid black will have differing effects if a person has crystal blue irises as opposed to dark brown irises. Brighter colors have drastically different effects.
I have been following the progress of other artists ever since the first trial runs happened. After practicing on fresh pig eyes from a local butcher and receiving guidance from another eyeball tattooer (Roni), I eventually got to the point where I was ready to take on my first scleral tattoo. The procedure went smoothly with minimal complications, as have all since. That first client later came back to have his second eye done.
At this point I have done scleral tattoos for a handful of individuals. There are a number of reasons for this beyond the fact that it is an experimental procedure. If I have an obvious feeling that a potential client may regret making this decision, I'm simply not going to do it.
Please describe the procedure to me, and the effects you can achieve.
Technically speaking, what I do really isn't even a "tattooing" procedure; rather it's injection-based. Due to this fact, the ability to "draw" images is very limited if not next to impossible. Colors can be mixed, separated and/or spread apart over the sclera for different effects, but not much beyond that has been achieved at this point.
What are the risks and effects?
There are a substantial number of known short-term risks associated with injecting too much ink, including prolonged headaches, sensitivity to light, and staining of surrounding tissue due to ink migration. To minimize calculated risks, be sure to seek out an artist that has as much experience as possible in this field. The more, the better. If you wear prescribed contact lenses or have existing eye conditions, your risks will increase drastically. The type of ink used is also very important, as individuals may have varying sensitivities or allergies to different materials that make up the ink. In respect to that fact, cautious spot testing before diving in head first is definitely recommended. UV reactive inks and red inks are more likely to inspire complications for a substantial number of individuals. The bottom line is that this is an experimental procedure, and we don't know long-term risks. Don't do it unless you're willing to take on the risk of complications over time. Or the worst case scenario: blindness or even complete loss of your eye(s).
What safety measures are important for people to know?
Personally, I recommend consulting with an open-minded ophthalmologist to verify that you do not have any existing or concern-worthy hereditary eye conditions that may be adversely affected by this procedure. Beyond that, seek an artist who can prove experience and due diligence in regard to technical and logical safety. Don't put yourself at risk without doing your homework first.
What would you advise someone who wants to get an eyeball tattoo, or perform one?
Do not attempt to tattoo eyeballs without proper training and understanding of the anatomy and safety risks involved. Do not let anyone tattoo your eyes if they cannot show you that they have a portfolio and a thorough understanding of the procedure and everything involved.
What other extreme body mods and projects are you working on?
I am currently in the process of training and starting up multiple divisions of The RISE Suspension Crew in major cities all across Canada. We are currently at five divisions including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and the East Coast. I am also aspiring to open my own body art studio in East Vancouver someday soon.
BME's eyeball tattoo FAQ is constantly updated with information about the procedure. For more on transhumanism and body mods, read La Carmina's interview with Steve Haworth and visit her alternative culture blog.