Tuesday, July 23, 2024

In Focus : Wearable art from the heart

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Tattooing may be trendy, but its roots are prehistoric. Historically, they have been used for varied purposes, including as markers to identify the group or clan to which an individual belonged, magical protection against misfortune or to ward off evil, badge of courage, designating rank in society and branding criminals.

Its use in modern society as a decorative and cosmetic wearable art, usually as a message coming straight from the heart, is of recent origin.The Pioneer’s Amartya Smaran traces the evolution of tattooing among various communities in India with focus on how it has become a respected art form in itself.

The tradition of tattooing was very much prevalent in ancient India, where several tribes had adapted maze-like patterns found on boulders dating back to 1,000 B.C. in the form of permanent tattoos.The Apatani Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh are known for their distinct practices.The elderly women of the tribe can be spotted with huge nose plugs and face tattoos. According to folk tales, beautiful women of the Apatani tribe were subjected to these practices to keep them safe from neighboring tribes.

The whole objective was to make beautiful women look unattractive to deter men from other sects. The tattooing technique involved the usage of a thorny plant and cane to ink the tattoo on the faces of women. Although elderly Apatani women used to take pride in the tradition, the younger generations of the tribe came to detest it. The Government of India banned these practices in 1974 as the nose plugs and face tattoos made the individuals susceptible to discrimination.

While the men of the Munda tribe in Jharkhand considered getting inked as a symbol of valor and courage in response to defeating the mighty Mughals, the Dhanuks tribes of Bihar practiced the painful tradition to modify the natural state of their women to protect them from influential sexual predators. The women of the Baiga tribes of Madhya Pradesh chronologically get inked with age. For example, when a woman reaches the age of 15-16, the tattoo artists would ink her hands and legs. Once the woman becomes a mother, she would get her chest tattooed. In southern India, the practice of tattooing is referred to as ‘pachakutharathu’.The Korathi community of Tamil Nadu would go in search of people who were interested in getting a tattoo in exchange for rice, betel leaves, and nuts.

The tattoo culture has been an integral part of various ethnic groups in Nagaland like the AO, Chang, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Phom, Pochury, Sangtum, and Yimchunger. Individuals were given tattoos based on their social status. For example, the head chief’s wife would get a distinct tattoo to distinguish her from her counterparts and a successful man would be given another kind of tattoo.

The tattoo artists in Nagaland were mostly women who would tactfully shape the tattoos using traditional tools made from thorns taken from cane plants. The ink would be taken from the resin or sap of the tree. To obtain the ink, the artists would burn the resin under an inverted piece of a vessel. Later, the sticky extracts would be scraped off and mixed with rice beer, breast milk, leaves, or water.

During the British Raj, the bureaucratic system did not permit individuals with visible tattoos at the workplace. Therefore, fearing the risk of not cracking jobs, men were compelled to discontinue the tradition. Due to the patriarchal system that prevailed during the time, women stayed home for the most part. Hence, they were in a position to carry the legacy of the age-old traditions and pass it on to future generations.

Despite such a rich history, the stigma around tattooing still exists in India. Some consider it a taboo and others unabashedly pass judgments on those who embrace the art form, making it look alienated. The Pioneer spoke to experts and tattoo enthusiasts from the city, including those who wear their hearts on their skin, to know their viewpoints.

Tattooist Amin Sultan Hajiani of Angel Tattoos and Piercing elaborates on the importance of traditional tattoo practices, saying: “Traditional art and basics are always important as they are the roots. Using them to improvise and hone their skill level is up to an artist. The modern way of tattooing has come a long way, be it the equipment or the art itself”.

“For me, it is a never-ending learning process. Even after 15 years, I am still figuring out and exploring things like a beginner and there is too much art to improve and execute. However, we have come a long way in terms of the perception of people regarding the art form. Thanks to the cinema, people mostly take inspiration from there. Though the industry is heading in the right direction, we are still 10 years behind the West in terms of people respecting the art, the artist, and the tattoo culture.

I would urge young artists to pick up tattooing as a passion and not as a business. One must look forward to up their skills and keep practicing the art form. When it comes to judgment, I think one must ignore it. After all, it is your art on your body,” says Amin.
Alif Hirani, founder of BOATS Tattoo Studios, speaking with great passion, observes: “In essence, before I started tattooing, I was a fine artist. I enjoy discovering new styles, learning them, and using them to create and express things to others. So, in terms of tattooing, I adore everything about it because it offers me the chance to make something every day that will last a lifetime and remind people of me whenever they talk about their tattoos. I enjoy hearing diverse explanations from people about the significance of their tattoos and the motivations behind them. Additionally, interacting with new people every day is exciting since you may learn from them and there are some people who are interested in learning how tattooing works.”

The young artist underscored the importance of keeping things clean in the studio and shared his thoughts on the risks involved in getting a tattoo, “For us, safety is the most important concern, though it is not hard if you keep everything hygienic and maintain cleanliness in your surroundings and in the studio.

Risks involved in getting a tattoo starts from where you get it. Have you searched about the place enough to trust the artist? People with heart problems, epilepsy, diabetes, hemophilia, or those who are on blood thinners medication should not get it.

Not to scare anyone but also maintaining your tattoo after getting it and taking care of it is very important to prevent infections.”

Busting notions around the art form and addressing the state of tattooing in Hyderabad, the expert says: “There are numerous tattoo-related myths throughout the world, and I think this is because people don’t know enough about tattooing (tattoos) — from deceptive aftercare to associated risks and safety aspects. For a very long time, the tattoo industry has altered and advanced beyond what the average person is aware of. Reverting to the original question, as I previously stated, people only view it as a tattoo and not as artwork, which is why I believe people are not being particularly creative in this arena.

I would not say that much has changed, especially in Hyderabad, but it is a steady process and you can see that people’s perceptions are shifting as it becomes more of an art form. From my point of view, I don’t believe you need to be qualified or educated to understand tattooing and not view it as taboo; it’s more about being open and accepting it as an art form. Seeing it as a decoration to your body and seeing it as something that defines you, something that makes you different from others, and when people do understand I feel happy about it. Tattoos are one of the only things you take to the grave, having tattoos does not make you a delinquent or a thug. It’s art! Art is about self-expression and creativity. Some people hang their art. We wear ours!”

Sravs Kadiam, a female tattoo artist and founder of Sravs Tattoos and Piercings, takes us through her journey in the tattoo industry. “Every job is challenging, so is mine. I see tattooing from an artist’s perspective, but most of the clients see it on paper and expect an outcome that replicates exactly the same thing. I see tattoos on different skins: dark, brown, and white. The results of every skin tattoo vary but the clients expect the same results. I try to explain to the clients the shape and size for a better result.

The most challenging aspect is when clients say ‘Can I get a small tattoo?’.  I try to explain to them not to go for a small tattoo but to go for a clear tattoo because, in the future, the client might put on weight or lose weight. I always want my tattoos to last longer. I like designing complicated ones because I enjoy them to the fullest. It feels challenging to work with new tattoos every single day and I give my 100% to get the best results.”

There are people who rush to the studios in order to get a tattoo. It could be peer pressure or a deep desire to emulate your favorite hero on screen.Commenting on people regretting their tattoos, Sravs says: “Tattoo regrets are very common, but I help clients with a tattoo cover-up. Redesign or redo tattoos to make them look beautiful and help them forget their past. Getting a tattoo is like a permanent addition to one’s body and more importantly to their soul. Tattoos are forever, so please take your time and choose the best design or a professional like me can help you with the design. My goal is to become the best tattoo artist and I am constantly learning every day. I will give my best for any kind of tattoo, I will keep learning every day until I become the best artist. I would like to thank Amin Sultan Hajiani for teaching me the craft of tattooing.”

Now, let us get into the psychology of getting a tattoo. Counseling psychologist V.S.L. Vidya pinpoints the various factors that lead individuals to gravitate towards getting a tattoo: “Tattooing is an age-old practice dating back to 3250 BC. To date, many cultures continue the legacy of the tradition. Around 38% of adults between the age groups of 18-29 have a minimum of one tattoo on their body. Tattooing is an art pertaining to the body. It is a form of self-expression. It could mean different things to different people. Self-expression, traditional and cultural belief systems, self-identity, imitating idols, risk-taking behavior, and peer pressure are the factors that propel people toward getting a tattoo.

When people look at celebrities with tattoos, people might look at them and develop a desire to get inked. In order to be unique, one might get a tattoo. Some people are capable of taking multiple risks like doing drugs.That aggressive pleasure-seeking behavior is also another reason why one might show interest in body art.

Professor Viren Swami suggested in one of his papers that the process of tattooing can be a powerful means of processing one’s trauma and reclaiming one’s body. Factors like extreme anger, grief, and lack of confidence might as well take the center-stage and push one toward the art form in order to express themselves better. Tattoos can say a lot about a person both inwardly and outwardly. What we think is what we do. One must recognize, understand, and acknowledge their feelings and ask themselves: “Is this the only way to express my feelings?”. If that’s the right way, then one can go for a tattoo with proper knowledge and understanding.”

Sreerupa Kanwar, a tattoo enthusiast, tells us her story of getting inked for the first time. “I have got around six tattoos and I am going to get another one soon. This has been something that I always wanted to do. Thirty years ago, we’d only find tattoos on villagers. In the North, the tattooing process is called Godna/Gondwana. At birth, the villagers would get the tattoo with their names. Back in the day, when I was in Delhi, this man would come home to deliver milk from a nearby village. He had this traditional tattoo of a peacock feather along with his name on his hand.

That really fascinated me and stayed with me. While growing up, getting a tattoo was definitely not something that was acceptable. Now that I worked for the media, I used to see all these foreigners with nice tattoos and my curiosity grew. Ten years ago, when I moved to Hyderabad, I found a good tattoo artist and got my first tattoo. Even then tattooing was not considered desirable by people. Society would think only druggies and drunkards would get it. I thought I’d stop it with one tattoo, but it’s an addiction now. I’m quite an enthusiast; I love the feeling of getting inked.”

Sravanthi Juluri, a visual and performance artiste shared her experience with us: “By profession, I’m an abstract and a performance artiste. People connect with my art on a different level and I connect with the art of tattooing on a different level. I was six or seven years old when I first spotted a tattoo on my cook. She had the typical traditional Telangana pachabottu. Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to get a pachabottu.

However, I could never connect with one particular thing to get inked. So, I decided to go to a tattoo place and see what connects. I got my first tattoo on the first day after the lockdown. I thought to myself during the Covid period that if I’m gonna die; I’d rather die having done everything that I wanted to do in life. My first tattoo was very significant to who I am as a person and it has extraordinary spiritual meaning attached to it. I have nine tattoos now and eight of them are spiritual in nature. My biggest tattoo is a Pink Floyd tattoo. I get comments like, “Get it removed, or else you won’t get married”. There is an idea that people won’t accept you if you have tattoos. I did come across a couple of uncles and aunties who said things like that, but then there were others who would come and say nice things. I am really against people getting the names of their partners inked because it’s all pretty uncertain. One should be deeply connected to their tattoo and it should be a reflection of who you are.”

Sharing her journey of getting inked, Sneha, an investigation specialist at Amazon, opines: “Growing up, I was intrigued by designs and patterns. When I was fourteen years old, I used to draw these tattoos on my hand and I’d watch the ink master show religiously. I am the first one from my house to get a tattoo. My first tattoo was a rose which I got in 2019, but that artist wasn’t really good. Later, I found the right artist and I had the snake and cassette tape drawn on my hand a few years ago. People say your tattoos must have a traditional meaning to them, but I don’t think that’s really the case.

I am someone who loves designs and if it looks good, it makes me want to get a good tattoo. It’s the process of getting a tattoo that excited me more than anything else. I am also into observational astronomy, so, I got a telescope and Saturn tattooed on my skin. I have got around eight tattoos now. Although there was some resistance at home initially, they are okay with it now. People judge you sometimes but I understand that not everyone is going to be appreciative of the design. I’ve had many people come up to me to look at my tattoos and give me a compliment. I feel my tattoos make me stand out from the crowd. The judgment wouldn’t matter to me because I never really asked those people for advice anyway. I like designs, art, tattoos and it makes me really happy and that’s what matters at the end of the day.”

Self-expression can take many forms and the bottom line with respect to tattooing is that it is a great way to wear your heart on the skin. Although one can erase a tattoo through the painful process of laser treatment, it would be wiser to have a clear idea as to why one wants to get a tattoo. All told, the art of tattooing is a wonderful means to express oneself. The choice to pick a medium to put our feelings and thoughts across is what empowers us. So, what better medium than our bodies?

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