BY: CAROLINE ROLF
While he might look like your everyday hipster, Che Alejandro Pando Napoles, or Che for short, would describe himself as more of a “neo-hippie communist.” Despite having to constantly dodge government closures of his shop by paying small “fines,” Che remains faithful to Cuba’s strong sense of community, keeping prices affordable and his clientele list intimate.
Many things in Cuba don’t come easy, and because of a trade restriction with the U.S. of more than 50 years, tattoo supplies can be harder to get than computer parts. All the equipment needed is illegal or unavailable in Cuba. This has forced tattoo artists like Che to improvise for the 16 years he’s been in business. They make their own needles, machines from baskets and draw designs from comic books.
“Yeah, when tattooing started to become more popular in the early ’90s, it was hand poking, with China ink, needle and thread. Nobody knew how to make a machine—so you try and find out a way to make it. Our friends made machines and that’s how it develops and keeps developing,” Che says in an interview with The Hundreds.
In a time where the country’s free-market economy looks promising and locals are embracing this cultural trend, the 36-year-old tattoo artist is taking advantage of this transitional point. Although this means Cubans will finally be able to buy property among other opportunities, Che is fearful of the gap between rich and poor widening further and remains conflicted about the Western-style capitalism shifting the roots of his island.