#FranklyAsking: What is the bizarre fixation with ‘bright/fair skin’ for some Indian tattoo artists?

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It is of no doubt that tattooing is one of the fastest growing industries around the whole world. It is of no doubt that people all over the world, of all ethnicities and economic backgrounds get tattooed more so now, than earlier. Instagram is flooded with tattoos all over, 24×7. I don’t think it’ll be exaggerating to say that you find as many tattoo pictures on Instagram, as fuckall selfies.

But in this massive online universe of tattoos, is there no space for inclusive behaviour? Is there no space for people of colour? Why is it that almost every tattoo picture with thousands of likes and tons of comments are on fair complexioned people only? Like, why do so many hundreds of these template-based tattoo artists curate their Instagram feeds in a particular way, where everything is of the same tone, aka whitewashed? And, why is this disturbing behaviour prevalent in India?

To put it in simple words, it is quite bizarre to see how some Indian tattoo artists value people with “fair skin” more than ‘brown average ones’. So, I have a question: Are tattoo artists racist?

Spot the white guy. Photo by Shubham Nag at Pune Tattoo Fest 2018

I don’t want to jump to judgments or assumptions, but like me, if you too follow a bunch of tattoo artists from India on Instagram and Facebook, you must have come across several posts over the last couple of years wherein tattoo artists are “looking for fair/bright skins for portfolio pieces”. From big, established studios/artists to the relatively lesser experienced ones, there are so many of these tattoo professionals looking for ‘bright skin’ to tattoo on.

I am a brown skinned guy with high melanin, and no, I am not ranting here because I don’t fit their criteria. I just wanna ask a basic question: if you are a tattoo artist in India, shouldn’t you be comfortable about the general tone of canvas you are surrounded by, and shouldn’t you be striving to break newer grounds to do great tattoos on not-so-fair-skin too?

Let me give you this exercise: Go to Instagram, scroll through 9/10 of the big tattoo studio profiles in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, wherever you like, and tell me how many tattoos do you see on dark skinned people? Trust me, you can walk in to any of these studios and shops, and you will find people of varied skin colour working there and who have come to get inked there. Then, why don’t their online profiles showcase this diversity?

Look at those great tattoos on Sonam Nath. Ain’t no photoshopping needed. Photo by Shubham Nag

It’s like every image for the world to see, has been edited in the same filter, regardless of what the original tone was. I have personally been tattooed by friends who have gone on to upload my tattoo picture on their feed, and that body part doesn’t at all look mine, because that’s not my colour. And I am proud of whoever the fuck I am. Sure, you are too.

It is a disturbing trend, to say the least. Are you (the artist) trying to tell us we are not good enough for the best of you, or are you showcasing a unidimensional prowess in your craft? Yes, it’s an acquired skill to tattoo darker skin tones. There needs to be a great understanding of contrast values, blacks, saturation and how pigment settles in different skin tones over time. Some of our finest from India are respected world over, as they have the ability to do great tattoos on no matter what skin tone. An example being Yogesh Waghmare of Leo Tattoos, aka Yogi. Yogi has a huge tourist clientele, along with an equally heavy local client base in Mumbai. Some of his bigger projects are on brown peeps, and some of them are award winning tattoos. Look at Eric Jason Dsouza. He pulls off colour portraits on brown skin tones, man.

Isn’t it beautiful to appreciate our own colours? Photo by Tanya Agarwal

Of course, our skin is generally not meant for colour tattoos that will stay strong forever, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get great tattoos. It requires an artist of the experience and capability and understanding of our skin tone to create great art on our bodies. But the problem doesn’t lie entirely with artists. As clients and collectors of tattoos, we should be aware and acknowledge the fact that not everything looks good on everyone. Our individual bodies require individual attention, and this change can come along only when we start appreciating ourselves a little more.

Let’s not just take a photo from Pinterest and be hell bent on getting an exact replica all the time. Always ask your artist to create for you. Take your references, but don’t get something just because it makes a great photo on Instagram. It needs to be great on your skin for the rest of your life. And it should come from an artist who respects who you are, and is fond of the canvas you are presenting them with.

Tattoo by Kevin Andrade

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