At the low end of the food chain:
“I usually have to convince people, that I do exist.”
To be a tattoo apprentice is a tough job. A dry spell before you are regarded as a full-fledged part of the scene. The hierarchy hits you daily one way or the other, even if you are working in a good studio environment. Now imagine struggling as a male apprentice, how would you deal with the situation as a female?
Therefore, I decided to start this series of articles after the first introduction called “GRLS and WMN to the front!” with the position of an apprentice. This idea got even more stuck in my mind, when I heard a European tattooist say: “Apprentices, I just take female apprentices. All they need to have is a good look. I will f*** them anyway. This is normal in Europe.” The normality, represented by the ease of making such a statement, shocked me, though I could have guessed, it might be pretty common in the scene. For sure, the bottom end of the food chain is anywhere a bonanza for severe discrimination cases.
Now, you might have an idea, how hard it is to find a female apprentice in Nepal, when there are already barely female artists around. So I was more than happy, that Bimal Rai aka Eek Glass Pani told me about full of power and talented Porku Rai, who works in his shop Static Engravers in Dharan. Luckily, she came to Kathmandu in September for the Nepal Inked Tattoo and Lifestyle Convention. Meeting her, my expectations and hopes got fulfilled: A girl, who stands her ground in the male dominated scene.
Porku has been starting her path towards tattooing like many – drawing most of the time in school classes, where she was not supposed to. The industry attracted her by being so lively and full of compassionate people, who believe in learning everywhere at any time. Those are the people inspiring her now. She sees them creating a kind of magic and it keeps Porku going forward every day. Though, she knows very well about the lack of female tattooists and even more so female tattoo artists in the scene:
“It is very challenging as the Nepali society finds it difficult to see a female tattooist. But we are equal to our male counterparts and equally capable of anything.”
While not being part of the scene for a long time, Porku already can see a massive difference between the positions of male and female tattooists. According to her, the perception of genders differs greatly – and this results in various degrees of acceptance within the industry. Speaking personally, Porku describes people and especially male customers not believing, that she is a tattooist. They are surprised and react often condescending towards the quality of her work, only referring to an idea of gender and mysterious stories about creativity, which are since ages connected to ideas of the male so-called genius. Those clients often even make sure to ask other present guys in the shop about Porku to verify the information she gave – needless to say, only as soon as she is out of sight. This situation is one of the biggest challenges for her, but also a motivation to work on communication skills and somehow improve her temper management. On the other hand, the trust of female customers and the support within the studio empower Porku again and again. Luckily, when it comes to questions of style, the apprentice does not see a difference between male and female tattooists. Porku explains this gender free space with the love towards work and curiosity about experimenting.
Surely, Nepal is no place of lived gender equality. Actually, no place in this world is. Yes, no place. Forget judgemental views on the situation here from foreign observers. Discrimination comes in various degrees with multiple masks. There is, in every case, a long way to go. As the situation seems to improve socially (POSITIVITY!), Porku from her side also hopes, the tattoo industry will grow its ideas of acceptance towards various genders:
“The Nepalese tattoo industry is evolving and I am glad, that I am a part of it. The number of female tattoo artists is very low now, but when I look at the love and acceptance towards tattoos by people, we will definitely see the rise of female artists.”