HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KATHMANDU: A four-year-old child in a remote village of Kaski was one day carving in a stone. The shy child had never been familiar to the art of sculpture, but his tiny hands were busy carving. And by the time he was done with his work, this little boy had created a portrait of a man — which he had seen as ‘election symbol of Uttam Pun’, one of the candidates of the then election.
It was an incident of some 35 years ago. And now the shy little guy has turned into a polite and soft-spoken gentleman who loves to play with canvas of human skin. With his immense love and passion for this art, he has not only gained name and fame for himself, but has also contributed a lot to develop tattoo art in Nepal.
He is none other than famous tattoo artist, Mohan Gurung, who is the pioneer to establish tattoo as art in Nepal and also exposes the talent of Nepali tattoo artists in different parts of the world.
From his childhood days, Gurung had shown interest towards creating artworks. Besides the stone sculpture, he also used to make sketches. “But no one in my family did sketching or practised any other form of art,” says Gurung whose father Parsahi Gurung was a farmer by profession. Born on May 10, 1974, Mohan was just two years old when his mother China Maya Gurung passed away.
The youngest of two sons, Mohan, was brought up by his father while his elder brother became a Lahure while he was still a child. “We were just two — father and me — in the family and there was no female member. Life became quite difficult for us as we didn’t know anything on how to manage a household," he remembers those innocent days of his life.
Probably this was one reason that prevented him from “socialising” with people. “I used to feel shy and uncomfortable with people," says Mohan, who preferred to stay alone and do his favourite work —
And this passionate artist still embodies this characteristic. Instead of going out with family and friends during holidays, Gurung loves “to be in my studio and ink different designs on my friends”.
At six he joined school and “grew up in the school hostel” where he used to do the same — sketching.
When Mohan appeared in SLC exams in 1990, his father sent him to Korea fearing that he “might get spoilt as most youth, those days in Pokhara, were becoming drug addicts”.
But on reaching Korea, he did not return home for three years and was not in contact with any of his family members. “One of my schoolteachers who worked together with me in Korea earned just as much as I earned. This gave me a thought, ‘if my schoolteacher and I have same salary, why do I need to study?’” he reveals.
One day, while he was working in the leather factory, he went to a tattoo artist from Holland to make a tattoo. On seeing his work, Mohan showed interest to learn the work. As such for two months he helped the artist in his studio and learnt the basics of tattooing. Mohan “always wanted to be in such profession where I could enjoy and get satisfaction. And I experienced this feeling there”.
Also, he left the leather factory “to learn tattooing”. Was he never scared of remaining unemployed in a foreign land? “No”, says the artist who “did not know that he wanted to be an artist till that time”. Nevertheless, Mohan used to make tattoos for his friends. “I used to feel that I have become like a hero amongst my friends knowing how to ink body parts," he recalls fondly.
Mohan had already seen people making moon on their body in Nepal who, disliked such tattoos. “The realistic designs with shades inked on tourists' body parts who visited the Lakeside were my favourites," informs Mohan who was inspired by the tattoo works of some of the music icons like Guns n Roses and Ozzy Osbourne.
Creating world of inking
Mohan together with his friends made a plan to return to Nepal “only after having fun and watching the World Cup that was to take place in Korea in 2002”.
But things did not turn out as he planned. It was in 1993, after getting a message that his father had been hospitalised, he flew back home. But later on he realised it was just a trick to make him return. Everyone was happy to see him back, but at the same time they were disappointed to know that he “did not bring a single rupee home”.
Though Mohan did not bring home money, he had carried few equipments required in tattooing. As such for some time, he made tattoos on his friends. Impressed by his work, friends motivated him to open a tattoo studio, but Mohan “did not have the courage”.
“People with long hair, dingo boots and tattoo works on their bodies were eyed negatively by society. It was almost like a crime for police,” Mohan recalls the situation of those days further revealing, “And people with such features were mostly youth who had become drug addicts then”.
On top of that his family members also opposed his idea of opening tattoo studio. But fortunately, he got support from his wife’s sister who helped Mohan financially to open a tattoo studio in Lakeside, Pokhara. Thus, in 2000, Mohan’s Tattoo Inn came into existence.
In 2005, he came to Kathmandu and established a small studio in Thamel, as he was afraid that “people won’t like his work”.
Before his, a tattoo studio of tattoo artist Babu Raja already existed in Kathmandu, though “it made only tribal tattoos”, informs Mohan whose work was different from that. “My works had shading, colouring, and colour mixing and people began to like it instantly," he says with a smile on his face.
Back then he was recognised as an artist “who would make shade in tribal tattoos”. Later on, he shifted towards making portraits and then he was into black and grey shading. Mohan’s recent interest is in “realistic portraits that reflect Nepali tradition like images of Ganesh and more”.
He also contributed to clear misconceptions that “only hooligans make tattoos”. “Many times people under the influence of drugs came to my place and insisted me to take drugs and even make tattoo for them," reveals Mohan who always avoided such people. “Neither did I become an addict nor did I entertain people who used drugs or were drunk”.
After starting his studio, he even left drinking as Mohan “wanted to live an exemplary life as an artist”.
With tattooing and piercing, he started supplying equipments and other things required for tattooing that proved beneficial for people who wanted to be in this
And he even began to “train people who had inner desire to do something for betterment of tattooing in Nepal”. But his lessons are not for those people who want to make money out of this profession. “I didn’t teach tattooing even to my wife as she wanted to learn it and make money out of it”.
Success began to follow this dedicated artist who took part in the Singapore International Tattoo Convention in 2009, and in many other countries including Brighton Tattoo Convention in London in 2012 where he won one of the
“I waited for almost eight years to prepare myself to be a part of these conventions," shares the artist who has attempted to organise two international and one national tattoo convention in Nepal.
To date, he has inked body parts of numerous people, from celebrities to general people. But one of the best days of his life as a tattoo artist was when “the team from Miami Ink came to my studio to shoot their programme”.
On meeting him, you may find him shy, but you will not fail to notice the zeal in his sparkling eyes that always reflects his desire to “do more and better in this sector”.