‘My work has been judged on the basis as stand alone pieces of art and not as ‘art by a woman.’
The tattoo industry in India has largely been a boy’s club. Largely looked upon as the art form of the outcast till a few years back, tattoos have taken some time to find resonance as individual expression in this part of the world. But, over the years, talented and passionate female artists have made their presence felt, not just through their art work, but by their individual politic of standing out for what they believe in.
While the number of female tattoo artists in India is still pretty low in comparison to the other gender, but their quality of work is as badass as it gets. They are breaking all forms of social norms, re-imagining tattoo imagery by bending gender stereotypes, and creating a space that allows more identities to bloom through some sick tattoos. We caught up with a few of them to know the stories about their journeys, their influences, their art and their identities.
Where will you find her: Ace Tattooz and Art Studio, Mumbai
Archana’s interest in the art of tattooing began when she got hooked to TLC’s LA Ink. Watching the show, she got intrigued with the step by step process of tattooing. For Archana, being a tattoo artist makes her proud. “Its an amazing feeling to be able to do and enjoy what you love. And tattooing takes it to another level because you are creating art on someone’s skin and you share that happiness with them. For me, tattooing is actually like meditation.”
Having started in the industry seven years ago, Archana says that the Indian Tattoo Industry has grown to another level over the years. “When I started, it was more or less all about getting a tattoo just to show off, rather than the significance of the tattoo. However, the outlook is changing and people are more inclined towards customized pieces with a real thought behind them. The level of artwork has also increased immensely.”
A strong believer in hard work, for Archana, a passion for the artwork is very important. “When it comes to tattooing, I believe my artwork is something that will always bring a smile on your face and satisfaction in your heart. Every time you see it, you will unconsciously remember me with love and happiness.”
Where will you find her: The Flying Lotus Tattoo Goa/Mumbai/On the Move
Kruti learnt tattooing from her husband and mentor, Kevin Andrade and says that being a tattoo artist gives her immense power. “You can leave a permanent mark on a person’s body through your art and ink! That art will be forever embedded on their body till they die and you will always be remembered by them. And it’s also about the experience of the process. Its creating a permanent memory.”
Kruti is a mother to a beautiful daughter and the only difficulty she has ever faced is managing her time. “I took a good three years break in the middle so that I could be at home for my daughter. And I have to make time to be at the studio, to be around and learn more and also take care at home. And this makes my clients more interested because they are fascinated by the fact that I can perfectly handle all of this.”
Apart from Kevin, Kruti says that Abhinandan Basu and Chirag Jhala have been her guiding stars and that being a woman tattoo artist in a country where majority of the artists are male, makes her stronger and one of a kind. “Its actually an advantage. Many women are comfortable only with a woman artist. And men feel lucky to be tattooed by a female artist. My clients feel that I am very considerate and gentle. And I think that’s just a woman’s nature. All my clients find it very easy to bond with me during the tattoo sessions.”
Kruti is a rider as well and says that its because of her tattooing that she is an independent woman.
“In short, I am in love with tattooing and I am proud,” she says.
Where will you find her: The Guiding Monk Tattoos, Kolkata
Debanjali’s journey into the art world began from her college days where she was exposed to multiple mediums of art expressions and techniques. “I actually began working as a graphic designer before realizing that it was not for me. After a friend’s advice, I decided to give tattooing a shot. Tshering from Calcutta Ink was the first artist to guide me in this journey. I then joined Lizard’s Skin (under Niloy Das) before opening my own studio.”
Debanjali has never followed any particular artist and gets inspiration from nature. “Geometry and Nature really intrigue me and I take inspiration from anything that attracts me.”
She creates her artwork based on the stories her clients have and believes that art needs to touch people’s hearts. “Art is something that cannot be defined because with time, a persons mind evolves and that reflects on the artwork.”
Like many of her counterparts, Debanjali too has faced some difficulties being a woman in the industry. “We get misjudged. While tattooing a male client, all I care about is giving my best, but what really obstructs me is that i really need to be conscious about my attire while i am working, as it isn’t very nice to have to settle your clothes all the time in front of the clients. Something as simple as that can create judgments in people’s minds. But at the same time, I am really happy to see a lot of female artists taking this as their career, and doing well at it. I already see massive change in the industry in terms of perspective.”
Where will you find her: Kraayonz Tattoo Studio, Goa
Growing up in Goa, Kelsey saw a lot of tourists and was intrigued with the tattoos they wore. At the age of 12, she told her mother that she wants to be a tattoo artist once she grows up.
“I fell in love with what I saw. They were mostly old school designs. And I just knew that this is what I had to do. I studied art in college, but dropped out soon because the mainstream approach didn’t appeal to me. I then joined Kraayonz and my journey began,” she says.
Kelsey’s art has been inspired by illustrations and books she grew up with. “I love the quirkiness in illustration art. And books like Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl- the art worm in those books really helped me transition into tattooing very easily. And my mentor, Sameer Patange has been a strong pillar of support always.”
For Kelsey, tattooing is synonymous with beauty and a form of self expression for both her client and herself. “Its about creating art, making something beautiful. Its about bringing beauty into the world through your art work. I really like the dark stuff, but it doesn’t mean that if a skull will look good with flowers, then I wont put flowers in it – as long as it all fits together as a beautiful piece.”
“Many people believe that a woman be able to do something as well as a man or provide the same quality of work. But that attitude is changing now. People are more open and have started believing in the work you do, irrespective of your gender. There are a lot more female artists today and the sisterhood is growing for sure.”
Where will you find her: Devil’z Tattooz, Delhi
For Shyamli, the word ‘tattoo’ encompasses many meanings and traditions. And being a tattoo artist means that you should be ready to take criticism and improve. “A tattoo artist should always be fine tuning his/ her skills and exploring new techniques. I don’t see my tattoo art separate from the rest of my art or even as a male/ female thing. Whatever you do out of passion is an extension of your existence essentially.”
Shyamli’s inspiration comes from photographs, music and other forms of art expressions. She loves movement in her illustrations and that translates into her tattoo designing as well. “Who you are as an individual, has an influence on your art. Certain attributes of your nature, including your gender will have some influence. My work is dreamy, sketchy – usually done with a brushpen or with watercolors. My artwork doesn’t really fit into any particular genre and nor do my influences.”
She says that she has been extremely blessed to have been surrounded by very supportive male friends, colleagues and mentors. “They have never doubted me or tried to restrict me based on the fact that I’m a woman. My work has been judged on the basis as stand alone pieces of art and not as ‘art by a woman.’ But yes, there are people who express surprise when they realise that they’re in the hands of a female artist. They don’t really know how to process the idea of a woman with hard skills that go beyong painting nails and cooking. That being said its still a boy’s club. Patriarchy is everywhere. Tattoo artists are supposed be ‘tough’, listen to ‘manly music.’ Stereotypical notions are just the way of the world unfortunately.”
According to Shyamli, everyone has to find their own paths. “It’s a rapidly growing, competitive industry. But we have to be supportive towards each other and learn from various people. Never make the mistake of thinking that you are done learning. And always explore new mediums. And of course, travel.”
Where will you find her: On the move, Bangalore
Sheena was always interested in art, but it took her a while to get into an art-related career. She is a self taught freelance illustrator and never set out to be a tattoo artist. “It’s a happy accident that I found tattooing. I had always thought I would be doing a corporate management job. So to be able to tattoo people with my art is a dream come true,” she says. As with her illustrations, Sheena is a self taught tattoo artist, specialising in hand poking.
“I always wanted to get tattooed, but either I wouldn’t have the budget or couldnt find the right artist. Sometime last year, I found out about someone doing tattoos by hand poking and I was instantly intrigued. So I went about trying and testing this method and I have worked out a way that I enjoy doing.”
She started putting up her work on Instagram and requests started pouring in. “Initially a lot of my friends wanted me to tattoo them. And over time, other people who saw my work also started getting in touch. Now I have a steady stream of clients and its very heartening to find more and more people interested in original and custom artwork as tattoos.”
Practising a very old method of tattooing, Sheena says that doing hand poked tattoos makes her feel more connected to the art form. “I really like the aesthetics of a hand poked tattoo, it’s very old school and has been around for a really long time. Just that the tools that have changed. I find it quite beautiful with its hint of imperfection.”
Peter Aurisch’s abstractness and line work is something that she really enjoys and she is very happy the way hand poking is taking off. “I follow a lot of hand poke artists and I am inspired by the randomness and oddities of life. I love the feel of hand drawn illustrations and hand lettering and as I am an illustrator, all my tattoo work is more like drawings. It’s very meditative for me, doing the tattoos one dot at a time. I really feel aware and enjoy the process thoroughly.”
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