“Tattooing has actually given me more power to be the kind of woman I am, and what I would want to grow into.”
Welcome to Pt III of Sisterhood of the Tattooed Tribe.
“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: Tuhi’s Tattoo Studio, Kolkata
It was Tuhina’s mother who persuaded and encouraged her to take up tattooing. “She knew I was keen to learn the art form. I was suffering from depression and wanted to keep myself involved creatively. Tattooing became my coping mechanism and has become a very important part of my existence and in 2014, I quit my job and started my own studio,” Tuhina says.
For Tuhina, tattooing means liberation. “Tattooing is a vent, a completely different world with no argument, rejection or hatred. Its always a liberating feeling and as a female tattoo artist the experiences have been different. So its an interesting journey.”
Even though she had her mother’s support, Tuhina did face some hurdles when taking up the profession. Her family wanted her to pursue academics and become a professor. “They didn’t want me to become a tattoo artist. Even when I started my own studio, people weren’t that supportive. I have been running my studio alone and I am happy doing what I am doing. I have evolved listening to all this. No publicity is bad publicity, right?”
Tuhina strongly believes that how one perceives things influences the art that is created and that making the client happy is very important. “ I don’t push my art form on to my clients. I modify what they want, in my own way, of course. I have been inclined towards dot work and mandalas and I love doing colour pieces. I don’t follow anyone in particular, but I keep updating myself with great art work and upcoming styles and try to integrate it all into my own style to make something different. But I do get a lot of inspiration from artists like Kevin and Rishabh.”
Where will you find her: Kamzinkzone, Jalandhar
Love and her own interest in art, led Divinya to become a tattoo artist. “The boy I love is a tattoo artist. I have always been interested in the arts and creative expressions. So when he asked me to join him after my graduation, I agreed and that’s how my journey began,” Divinya says.
Being an artist means to be passionate for Divinya. But being a female artist means that she has had to carve her niche in an industry where the number of women is still comparatively on the lower side. “In a society where women don’t generally pursue a career related to tattoos, I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to be an amazing artist that people would look up to. I am good at what I do and very proud at the fact that i have come this far. Not many people accept it, but I am an artist and no one can take that away from me.”
She says that she has worked really hard over the years and her work speaks for itself. “Being a female artist, I have had to work twice as hard. Not just inside the industry, but outside of it as well. People think- ‘she is a girl, will she be able to make tattoos?’- So yes, I have faced these kind of prejudices and criticism, and I face them everyday. But because of this, I have worked hard and proved myself.”
Divinya loves colourful art forms and that reflects in her own artwork as well. For her, dedication and passion are the two most important things towards her creativity. “If you want to get into this profession, you have to dedicate yourself completely to this art form. And of course, you have to practice.”
Where will you find her: Mandalism Tattoo Studio, Goa
Manasi used to work in a corporate setup and was finding that a bit suffocating. For her, tattooing helped to transition into a more independent and empowering lifestyle. She says, ”Tattoos have been my way of understanding freedom with a raw approach. I have never been more inspired to do more everyday and make the most of what comes and I owe it all to tattooing. Tattooing was my shackle-breaker. It gave me more power to be myself and connected me back to many other skill sets such as singing that I had forgotten were a part of who I am as well.”
During her graduation year, Manasi used to spend a lot of time at a tattoo studio, working freelance on a content writing job. Being artistically inclined, Manasi would sketch in her free time and the artist at the studio took notice of that. “He suggested that I should try my hand at tattooing. So I learnt a bit and tattooed a couple of friends but I still never took it seriously.”
Post graduation, Manasi started working with CNN, but wasn’t satisfied. She quit after 3 years without any plans for the future. “I just took that step. A year later, I picked up the machine again. One thing led to another and I went from apprenticing to tattooing and now owning a private little studio.”
An article on Chaim Machlev inspired her a lot. “He took up tattooing in the beginning of his 30s after quitting his job as a project manager in an IT company. By the age of 33, he had not only learnt a new craft but also aced it. His story is what gave me inspiration to start my life afresh.”
Enjoying a diverse array of artists, Manasi follows Jondix, Jeff Gogue and Maxwell in the tattoo industry quite closely. She also admires the works of great artists like M. C. Escher, Klimt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Dali.
Manasi strongly believes that as a tattoo artist, specially a female artist, she can express who she is without holding herself back. “Tattooing has actually given me more power to be the kind of woman I am and what I would want to grow into.”
She has also noticed the change that has come about in the industry over the past few years. “Earlier, I used to get a lot of clients who used to come with a picture of a tattoo they found while googling and they wanted the exact same thing which was already on someone. I have been asked many times why my artwork looks like Mehendi or Rangoli. There wasn’t much awareness about sacred geometry. Now I get clients who come with their own ideas and come specially to get geometrical or dotwork tattoos which is my expertise. I think this is a good time to be a tattoo artist in India.“
When asked if it was difficult to get into a largely male dominated industry, Manasi says “Well, isn’t being a woman a difficulty everywhere? But jokes apart, I never thought about becoming a tattoo artist. I did not look for it, it found me. Do what you love and enjoy what you do. Don’t do it for the money and don’t do it for the fame. Don’t do it the way someone wants you to. Do it because you want to and however the hell you want to. Do your own thing. Don’t wait for the gates to open, make your own way.”