Magic of body art

The world is divided into two kinds of people — those who have tattoos, and those who are afraid of people with tattoos. — Author unknown


The word tattoo is still almost a taboo in our society. Tattoo has been around for thousands of years and has direct link to tradition and symbolism of various cultures. Tattoos and their cultural significance to people around the world can be seen from the famous ‘Iceman,’ a 5,200-year-old frozen mummy, to today’s Maoris. People have marked their bodies with these permanent designs — sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate — symbolising status, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment.

Tattoos today are used more as expressions of character. People find that being able to put what they find important in their lives as a tattoo is part of their freedom of speech. Older generation used to tattoo their body with initials, names, figure of gods and goddesses and also symbols.

“Long ago, in Tebahal, there was a couple who use to tattoo such designs for people of that generation, but after their death the tradition collapsed. Now slowly the fashion has come back, but today it is more about style and speaking one’s mind through tattoos,” says Babu Raja Pradhan, tattoo artist and owner of Thamel Tattoo Studio.

In those days it was believed that it was religious to carry god along, and after one dies s/he can trade the god as expense on one’s journey to heaven, adds Pradhan.

On the other hand, tattoo artist Mohan Gurung of Mohan’s Tattoo Inn says, “Before people used to think of it only as art on body. However, it is an expression, a statement and they are now slowly getting the message and a clear idea about the art.”

He also adds that most of the people still take it as a deviance act as it is mostly prisoners and rockers who get tattoos.

Gurung was always interested in art and use to draw lots of portraits but when he turned 19 he was influenced by rockers and got interested in tattoos. He learnt the art from Korea and has been involved in the profession for the last 11 years. He opened the inn on 2000 and since then has been writing stories and experiences of people on their bodies.

Pradhan’s journey as one of the most well-known tattoo artists in Nepal started when he learned the art from an Austrian tourist Susan when she came to Nepal. At that

time he was just interested in getting one on him, but he was hooked by the tattoo magic. He started his career in 1994 and soon tattoo became a fashion in Kathmandu.

“Today the Nepali crowd has grown in size as compared to that of yesteryears. When foreigners come to get a tattoo they come with planning and are sure about what type of design they want, but Nepalis are usually confused and think a lot while choosing the design,” says Gurung.

Talking about preference in design Pradhan says, “Guys usually go for dark images like skulls and animals, whereas girls they prefer more loveable and cute designs or zodiac signs. They like to get it mostly in the lower backs and shoulder blades.”

Both agree that the beginners like having tribal and Maori designs.

Previously various other cultures had their own tattoo traditions, ranging from rubbing cuts and other wounds with ashes, to hand-pricking the skin to insert dyes. According to Gurung, in previous years people used coal and even battery as colours and used needles to insert it in the skin, and Pradhan says people of hilly regions used neel kanda as tattooing device as the milk from the plant when it comes in contact with the skin gives greenish colour marks. But today they give top priority to the safety and use sterilised needles.

“We never use the same needle again. It’s all use and throw. The machines are imported and the colours are from Mickey Sharpez, a very well known brand of UK,” says Gurung, while the colours and machines at Thamel Tattoo Studio are from Holland.

“We have to be careful with our brands and the products. We are a well known name and so cannot go wrong with the services we provide,” says Pradhan.

He has even taught the art to his student Ram Kapali, who now handles the studio. They also give attention to sensitive skins and give customers information on skin care after getting a tattoo.

“Many believe that colour tattoos fade with time, but that is not true. First of all they need to get good quality colour and take good care of the tattooed area for a certain period of time and keep it away from direct exposure to sun,” says Gurung.

Today tattoo is a fashion symbol and expression of thought rather than just another simple mark. Tattoos have spread across oceans and different countries. Once what seemed like a non-sense thing has truly become an integral part of the new generation of fashion.