“The stories you write in your teens and your twenties are mainly for making a statement. But once you grow older and actually start living those stories, they are not statements anymore, they become a part of you.” – Sapna Moti Bhavnani
Being comfortable in one’s own skin means not just presenting yourself the way you want to, but also to stand for the choices you make. Legendary Japanese tattoo artist, Horiyoshi III once said in an interview that what makes tattooing such a humane tradition lies in breaking the myth that tattooed people have no regrets. He instead says that tattooed people are probably the only ones, who are accepting enough to live with regrets.
“They become a part of you.” India’s most prolific ink collector (probably), Sapna Moti Bhavnani couldn’t have described the very fundamental core of tattoo any better. Collecting ink for 26 years now, Sapna has painted the majority of her canvas already, yet has a long way to. She has tons of stories with all her tattoos, yet there’s so much more to say…
To Sapna, tattoos must have come as a natural choice of expression. Growing up in the Bombay of 70s and 80s, “I used to have buzzed hair and wore boys’ clothes, rode a motorcycle, smoked in public and talked to boys”, remembers Sapna. She is a rebel at heart, but not one without a cause.
It was in 89, after moving to America that she got to explore the then thriving underground culture of gangs, bikers and ink. While she was excited by this subculture, she not only wanted to be a part of it, but also show that the subculture doesn’t discriminate. “A lot of people used to think that Indians cannot look like that, and it was ridiculous. I mean anybody can look like anything… you look the way you want to look; there is no nationality attached to it.”
The idea of a woman has been a huge influence on her as a collector, and as an artist. “My back, it’s a beautiful Goddess, Tara that I wanted because it’s like a woman thing, like she’s got my back.” She has women tattoos across her body.
Her ink inspirations stem from her present. She has ink from where she was at, at those particular times in her life. “Every ink is inspired from where I was those days with my life and that’s why it’s so beautiful to have such old school ink because you won’t be able to find that anymore.”
What’s different about Sapna as a serious collector is that she takes the wonder of people at tattoos generously. In her opinion, people just don’t know any better. Not just in India, in Thailand too, people wanted to touch her tattoos, which she finds endearing. “What’s malicious is so called happening people calling ink bad things. The ‘yo’, cool people come and say ‘Oh! You’re trying too hard to be cool’, that’s malicious. They are not trying to understand that this is not me trying to be cool, this is me and if it happens to be cool, so be it. Calling it fabric is not malicious, you’re actually just saying it the way it is, it is skin, it is fabric, and it is art.”
Her tattoos don’t have a “purpose” so to speak. For once, she doesn’t do it for any reason; that’s just who she is. “It’s just a part of me, like getting a haircut. Do you think twice before getting a haircut? No, it’s grown and you cut it. So, one month goes by and I go, oh lets go get ink. It’s just as simple as that. There is no motive, no ulterior thought process. It is just such an intricate part of me; the day I feel I’m not comfortable anymore, I’ll stop.”
Title: “Ink Shot Veins.”
Photographer: Taras Taraporvala (insta @taras84)
Stylist: Sohiny Das (insta @sohinydas)
MUH: Avni Rambhia (insta: @avnirambhia)
Wardrobe: Nikhil Thampi (insta @nikhilthampi)
Faux Leather Jacket by SoFake
StoryTeller/Muse: Sapna Moti Bhavnani (insta @sapnamotibhavnani).