Tattoo artists become professionals as getting inked turns into a lifestyle

People & SocietyTattoo artists become professionals as getting inked turns into a lifestyle
It’s now more of a lifestyle than just form of art,” saysVikas Malani about tattoos in a conversation with Guardian 20. He co-founded the international brand Body Canvas Tattoos with Mickey Malani. Tattooing is among those arts where the human body is transmuted into a canvas, and the person that chooses to be the canvas sees the tattoo as a means of self-expression. In this consumerist world, where most of us get easily pushed into categories and types of crowds, there is always a constant search for identity. Tattoos are among those elements that have today been assimilated into what defines one.

But, this isn’t really all that tattoos are about, especially in their history. Tattoos were considered an identifier which could be used to locate you as a member of a clan or a class. In Nazi camps they were used to identify those that were captured. The multifarious utilities for tattoos have often also been used to provide them with meaning. Obviously, today the meaning of a tattoo is more than complicated — given the ethical requirements which tend to ostracize tattoos from corporate and formal settings. Nonetheless, tattoos are entwined with the socio-cultural history of India. Manjeet, of Manjeet Tattooz, says “There is a wide variety of traditional tattoos here in India, and even the one’s which are the initials of people’s names are also tattoos.”

“The tattoo industry, globally, is valued at Rs 12,000crore,” says Mickey. But within this pie it is hard to discern the share that the Indian Tattoo industry holds. “The economic value in this case is also directly proportional to the number of tattoo artists,” he further adds, “In other words; the number of tattoo artists is comparatively much lesser in India than outside India.” Furthermore, the market does not just depend on the number of artists, to this must also be added the consumer base that the market can boast of, which according to Sameer Patange, of Kraayonz tattoo studios, “Has grown larger. Within the past half decade the popularity has grown beyond control, attracting people from all walks of life.”

Speaking of artists, the matter is about more than talent here — it’s about skill. This leads one to ask the obvious question, is there an institutional structure in place to train and certify tattoo artists? Sadly, as informed by all the above mentioned artists there is no institutional structure in place. But to beat this obstacle, established tattoo artists such as Vikas & Mickey Malani have set up their own institutes where tattoo artists can go, learn and then obtain certification. Sameer, on the other hand, contrarily, shares his belief, “the ones that run a so called academy are only piggybacking on the lucrative market and ever growing unskilled individuals who want to be a part of this industry, because of its lucrative nature.” He emphatically remarks, “The only way one should go about learning is by apprenticing with an experienced and skilled tattoo studio.”

“The only way one should go about learning the art is by apprenticing with an experienced and skilled tattoo studio.”
Prices of tattoos are determined by the area that is to be tattooed, which means that one has to pay per square inch. The basic start per square inch ranges from Rs 1000 to Rs 2000. On the subject of prices Manjeet says, “See the pricing is totally based on the experience of the artist plus the artwork they are offering.” Such prices don’t baffle most customers, what concerns customers is the quality of the work that they shall be offered. The quality is constitutive of a lot more than the art. Among the first things that these artists pointed out was that none of them offer stock options, and they prefer to personalize tattoos according to the wishes of the customer. This is a significant marker on the basis on which one can determine the quality of the work they will receive. Secondly, and most important, given the medical risks that are involved in the whole process of tattooing, the artists have to be aware, “Health and hygiene,” adds Vikas, “are the main points that any tattoo artist needs to keep in mind for himself but also for the place around him.”

What does it take to be a tattoo artist? If they are members of the field of the arts, what value does inspiration hold for them? On this subject the artists have their own idiosyncratic opinions. Mickey believes, “inspiration lies in the mind of the artists, thus allowing to be inspired by all that surrounds them.” Manjeet was inspired by the works of other artists that he came across. Sameer was inspired by what he learned from his mentor Dr. J.A. Kohiyar. It is also important to note that the inspiration also depends upon the needs of the customer. Manjeet points out, “You should be a good listener and a person who can read between lines. That is when you understand the expression that the customer wants to portray through tattoo he’s getting.”

Tattoo artists have worked towards creating a flourishing ecosystem where there has been no dearth of customers in the last half decade. But they require other forms of support, one of them is the model created by the “Heartwork Tattoo Festival”, where artists are able to gather to share knowledge and also present their work to an audience that is capable of understanding and adding to it. As tattoos from Italy, Germany, UK, USA and Ukraine inspire our artists here, we require better platforms to help raise the standards here in India and also to garner a global visibility. Vikas Malani, in discussion of what’s most vital in an artist adds, “Knowledge along with passion for the field and profession will provide the initial steps for establishing oneself.”

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