Indian tattooing needs more of culture, and less industry

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As a business, and as an industry, tattooing is flourishing in India, to say the least. The template for a professional tattoo studio in India was set in the early 2000s, and is now replicated across the country. The first tattoo convention, I think, happened in 2011, and now there is one in almost all tier I and some Tier II cities. But all of this growth seems very one-sided.

The big names and big players in the Indian tattoo scene seem to promote a line of thought that wants to create more and more tattoo artists. But the question is: does it do enough to encourage and instill a tattoo culture in the country’s youth?

It’s great to see tattooing becoming more popular by the day in our part of the world. But the fear is tattooing seems to be reaching a level of distasteful saturation even before we could experience subcultures that could stem out of it. 5 years back, I remember how the discussions around Indian tattooing used to be on the lines of ‘tattoos are a way of the mainstream opening up to their alternative desires’. Now, the idea promoted is ‘anybody can be a tattoo Artist’.

No. Not any Tom, Dick and Harry can become a tattooer. It’s not just a job. It shouldn’t be promoted as just a great business model, because what that is doing is diluting a scene that is yet to even establish itself. From March 2017 to December 2018, we (Tattoo Cultr) received 532 tattoo enquiries across channels, and 763 enquiries from people asking how to become tattoo artists. That is some BS. But that’s the truth. Their questions range from ‘which is the best tattoo school?’ to ‘where can I buy the cheapest tattoo kit from?’

And it’s not the inquisitive people who are to blame, here. It is the people who seek way too much power in an art industry and are slowly killing its soul. If so much money and media can be spent on selling tattoo courses and thus tattoo equipment, then why can’t the same media be used to create multiple, small communities that enrich the lifestyle and cultural aspect of tattooing.

When we get tattooed, we are not just showing our individual expressions, but also expressing our desire to belong to a headspace/subculture/scene. But big brands are not interested in that. Big brands are creating homogeneous patterns and templates for all tattoo artists and studios. And that is problematic, because it’s an art form that caters to emotions, expressions and psyches at individual levels.

Do we have a solution? Well, there’s no one track solution to institutional dumbing down of an art form. A culture needs to be set. Stop selling the ideas of “BEST”, “BIGGEST”, and the whole 9 yards. Encourage people to choose individually. Encourage the thought that there’s a different artist for every idea. Set benchmarks of style, rather than awards. Hold more exhibitions, and less conventions. Let’s put tattoos on the lifestyle map. Let’s fuse with other art forms. Create identities. And the beauty of the matter is, all of us who are tattooed or are just involved with tattoos can bring some change just by individual actions.


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