An international tattoo convention in Nepal! — this statement would be nothing more than a joke a decade ago for many. There were sceptics who said it is not going to work in Nepal. But the convention happened, first at the national level in 2010 and at the international level in the following years. This year it is ready to unfold its seventh edition.
Sceptics exist even today, says one of the directors of the 7th International Nepal Tattoo Convention Bijay Shrestha. It seems tattoo literate people have overpowered those negative perceptions of tattoo which is why the Convention is getting bigger and better every year.
The objective of starting this festival — “to put the Nepali tattoo scene on the global map” — is being fulfilled with an increased interest of international tattoo community.
Increased tattoo literacy
“Compared to previous years, people have become more tattoo literate,” Shrestha shares of his views on people’s perception about tattoos, further defining tattoo literacy as “the way people perceive tattoos and tattoo artists as well as their awareness about tattoo designs”. People’s perception and awareness level about tattoos has changed — “people with tattoos are not regarded as thugs or junkies anymore, and this is a big change,” he sums up.
That was not the case when the Convention first began. “When we started there was a lot of negative perception of tattoos.” And the International Nepal Tattoo Convention deserves a big credit for helping people change their perception. As the Convention was organised, it drew a lot of attention — both at national and international level.
“The local and international media coverage on issues including science behind tattooing, aspects of hygiene, and spirituality has helped in bringing about positive change,” he analyses.
People’s interest in tattoo artists too increased with media attention. As Nepali artists have begun to get more exposure, in the last six/seven years quality of their work has also increased, as per Shrestha, who elaborates, “Earlier the tattoo artists would make one tattoo a week at Rs 1,000. Now their rate has increased, and so has the work. We have many good Nepali tattoo artists other than Mohan (Gurung) these days.”
While the Tattoo Convention has been able to generate people’s love for tattoos back home, this three-day fiesta is also garnering equal interest from the international tattoo community.
The festival that started with around 35 tattoo booths in 2010 has expanded to accommodate around 110 booths of artists. Around 30 per cent of these booths are reserved only for Nepali artists. The remaining booths are booked by
artists ranging from countries that include Japan, Thailand, USA, Sweden, Greece, UK, Australia, France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Canada, India, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, Mexico and Brazil, among others.
These booths are not only for sale, “it is an exchange of style and knowledge between countries and artists and everyone else coming to the convention,” he expresses and “the organisers value this
aspect”. That is why they only choose artists “who are up to the mark”.
Despite being selective, they still “have around 40 artists in the waiting list for this year” as they could not accommodate all.
In the initial days, “we used to worry if we would get sufficient artists or not”.
What caused this expansion is the networking, word of mouth and of course the way the Convention has created its image.
“When we started the Convention, it was all about personal contacts and networking — the network and reputation of Mohan (Gurung) Sir played a crucial role,” Shrestha shares.
Giving an example he elaborates, “A few years ago, a famed tattoo artist Marcuse, who specialises in Japanese oriental art attended our Convention, his followers came the following year. Also, Marcuse and Tom Vater among others wrote about our Convention in many magazines.”
He shares another case, “In the past few years, mandala and geometric patterns are the trend and this form of art is based in Hindu and Buddhist religions. And for the artists who create this form of art, coming to Nepal Convention is like getting a certificate for their work.”
Such publicity has helped a lot and more big names are coming this year. Johan Svahn – Sweden, Watsun Atkinsun, Philip Milic and Dilon Forte from USA, Inky Joe – UK, are some of the known names of tattoo world attending the Kathmandu Convention.
These artists also love the Convention because “we have never begged anyone to come to our Convention, we don’t give special treatment to any artist — whether it is a big name or an ordinary artist, we treat them equally. And we have tried to promote tattoo as an art through our
Convention, rather than promoting ourselves”.
The catastrophic Gorkha Earthquake of April 2015 had an impact on the Convention — the quake hit the nation on the second day of the Convention and it could not continue.
As all preparation had been made for the three-day festival, the organisers suffered financial loss, which “doesn’t matter” for Shrestha as “fortunately everyone coming to the Convention were safe”. Rather the tattoo community united to help the quake victims in every possible way.
But then the impact of earthquake was seen in last year’s Convention as some tattoo artists didn’t turn up for 2016 due to the quake of 2015. “Despite the things our country went through during the earthquake, and the loss of lives and properties we suffered, we added more energy last year — every one worked hard, from media to Tourism Board to artists, and pulled out the best convention ever. And many regretted not being a part of it,” Shrestha recalls. “Those who came last year went back and told the story and I think it made an impact. It gave a positive message and more people were interested and touched by what we did last year. So, more people are coming this year.”
Other than artists, there are a lot of people “who are coming to Nepal only for the Convention from different parts of the world” as per Shrestha. “This has become possible due to the huge followers of tattoo art — as big names are coming here, when people know that the tattoo artist they are following is coming to Nepal, they visit our Convention”.
Around 20-25 per cent people are coming after knowing about the Convention, as per Shrestha.
Achievements amidst challenges
Despite being the first nation in South Asia to hold an international level tattoo convention, Nepal’s tattoo scene is very small commercially. “For instance, India has many good artists, international companies want to sponsor their events and they are commercially more sound than us. But we do not have that privilege,” reveals Shrestha.
Despite that the Convention is “getting Eternal Ink — one of the best tattoo inks in the world — as one of our sponsors this year. There are followers of Eternal all over the world, those guys coming here is a big thing for us,” he adds.
Organised by mu’az entertainment and Mohan’s Tattoo Inn, the Convention is changing its venue in the seventh edition. It will be held at Heritage Garden, Sanepa. The last-minute change in the venue has increased the extra work for organisers “but we are going to make it the best”.
“We will probably open for longer now, a food court will be there and the space is also super clean and brand new,” Shrestha boasts of the new venue. To make commuting easier, there will be shuttle service too.
From featuring over 150 national and international tattoo artists to traditional Nepali folk music and dance to body suspension to tattoo competitions, the Convention is all set provide the best experience for all.
And Shrestha, who has travelled to the Capital all the way from Oslo, Norway a few weeks ago just to host the Convention is happy that they have been able to change the tattoo scene of Nepal for better and “showcase Nepali art before the world while putting it on the global map”.
They love tattoo as an art form and specialise in diverse styles. From realistic portrayal to surrealistic works to the traditional, you can get all kinds of tattoo works done at a single venue at the Convention. And here are some such Nepali tattoo artists who will mesmerise the world with their talents at the upcoming 7th International Nepal Tattoo Convention.
Rajan Maharjan wants to tattoo his whole life, while expanding his horizon constantly. That’s why he participated in this tattoo fiesta last year for the first time. Representing his studio Ra-zone Tattoo, he will present something he loves to do. And he urges everyone not to miss this Convention “as you can meet lots of great artists and learn their individual style of tattooing, and perhaps you’ll find out what you want for your next tattoo”.
Black and grey tattoos, especially realism and surrealism. I seek my inspiration both nationally and internationally — a lot of great tattoo work come from all over the world and I try to mould it into my own style.
What kind of work will you do at this Convention?
I will be doing two works — both will be in black and grey with a mix of realistic portrayal and surrealism. One of them will be a surrealistic piece based on a painting of a girl entwined in black. I’m doing exactly the kind of tattoos that I love. That will be my focus. The other piece is a surprise.
Your experience of previous year
My experience last year was really positive. It was a great opportunity for me to interact with other artists, especially international ones. I was happy to be able to share my works with the other artists and the tattoo enthusiasts. The Convention has a very inspiring environment.
I expect to meet many amazing artists from all over the world while having a good time.
Why International Nepal Tattoo Convention
I like to participate to learn directly from artists who set the standard for the whole tattoo industry. It’s also a great way to make new contacts and form new friendships. I also love the opportunity to represent Nepal in the tattoo field.
Ink’s Inc, has been one of the regulars at the International Nepal Tattoo Convention since the first edition. The tattoo studio features some of the most talented tattooists who specialise in diverse styles. This year three artists — Binay Gurung, Kovit Rai and Kamal Dulal — will be working in two booths at the Convention. Their booths will boast of variety as the three artists will be working on diverse designs.
Our Studio will feature three artists in the Convention, and each artist specialises in different styles. Gurung specialises in traditional and semi-realism form of works. Rai is good in dots and lines. Dulal loves doing neo-traditional, and he sometimes does works on dots and lines too.
We will definitely be doing something that we usually love doing. We will focus may be on something traditional. And we are also planning a project for a large scale tattoo.
The Convention has always been a good and inspiring experience for us.
Expectation from this Convention
We can’t ask for anything more as the organisers have always been able to pull off something new. And as always, we are hoping to see and meet many new artists from all over the world.
We have been participating in this Convention as a studio since its inception. We love to take part in it as this is like a big festival and we don’t want to miss it.
What: 7th International Nepal Tattoo Convention
When: March 31 to April 2
Time: 11:00 am to 7:00 pm
Where: Heritage Garden, Sanepa (Old Gyanodaya School)
Ticket price: Rs 500 (3 days),
Rs 200 (per day); tickets available at Mohan’s Tattoo Inn and at the venue on the days of event
For more information log on to www.nepaltattooconvention.com
A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.