Willard Malebear is a Lakota tattoo artist. Malebear is opening what he believes to be the first Indigenous owned and operated tattoo shop, Iktomi Tattoo.
“We want to showcase Indigenous artists, but we're not only accepting Indigenous artists, we're accepting anyone who's down to support Indigenous culture, that can just really embrace the lifestyle and the art and just align with that mindset and understanding that we're all related.”
Malebear has also announced a sister project to Iktomi Tattoo - Unified Theory Collective. The art center will function as an art supply library and will offer classes to learn art regardless of a person’s financial standing.
“So it's like, half of the attention goes to the Art Center, and then half the attention will switch over to the tattoo shop,” said Malebear. And so they're kind of going back and forth.
Malebear, who was born in Minneapolis but raised in Idaho, has a vision to revitalize the South Minneapolis neighborhood using art.
“I think that here in South Minneapolis, especially Uptown, Lyndale, Hennepin, Lake Street, that was once a beautiful jewel of Minneapolis, I think is set for a renaissance. And I think arts and culture is what's going to bring forth that change,” said Malebear. “So for me, I think it's important to be just another indigenous voice speaking positivity and grow culture into the business aspect in the Twin Cities.”
Iktomi Tattoo and Unified Theory Collective are set to open in March. Willard says they are designed to be safe spaces for Indigenous artists, and other Twin Cities residents who are eager to express their creativity.