It was a busy Sunday morning at Black Ink Tattoos, Rajouri Garden, and Sahil, the owner, was bracing for his first tattoo of the day — a memorial portrait of a middle-aged man that a client named Atharv wanted on his chest.
Sahil, 36, has been a tattoo artist for the past 10 years but still gets a little nervous whenever he has to do a memorial tattoo. This time, the client wanted a tattoo of his childhood friend he lost in July 2021 due to Covid-19.
Speaking about the intimacy that his clients share with memorial tattoos, Sahil says, “Memorial tattoos help us in having a dialogue with our grief and give us a physical remark to remind ourselves that tough days will eventually pass.”
Vibhor Pratap Singh, the co-founder of Circle Tattoo, says, “Tattoos have always been a way to express love and art, but after the pandemic, where everyone has gone through a lot and has been drained emotionally, people have started giving more thought to the decision of getting inked. Now, it’s not just considered a piece of art, but more of a symbol of strength.”
He adds that people are now inclined towards getting something that has significance in their lives, which includes portraits of their loved ones, mythological themes, symbols of things that they believe in or making a statement to society at large.
Singh also fondly remembers a client who had lost his mother during the pandemic and wanted a tattoo to show the bond he shared with her. He gave a few consultation sessions to the client and worked on a personalized story-based artwork for him, representing the life his mom had and conveying the sense that she’s still there with him.
“The whole process was an emotional conjuncture for the client as well as us. But the final result gave him quite the strength. This was something that made him come out of the trauma and grief”, adds Singh.
Singh isn’t the only tattoo artist in the capital who’s seen firsthand how the pandemic has changed the way people think of body arts. Gaurav Mehar at Ink Met Skin tattoo studio in Satya Niketan has observed that clients no longer stress on a mandala, geometry or big fancy tattoo. Instead, they are looking for solace in small minimal tattoos that commemorate someone or something they love.
Gaurav shares, “My client, just yesterday, wanted ink that said ‘life is beautiful, while the others had tattoos that said ‘shukr (patience and gratitude)’, ‘believe in you’, ‘free’, ‘just breathe’, ‘no rain no flower’ and many more. Also, I remember this girl who called me one day and wanted a signature from her grandmother because her grandmother was the one who raised her to be the woman she is today. She had lost her grandmother to Covid and wanted to immortalize her grandmother’s signature on her arm. She also got a big red dot, a bindi, which her grandmother would wear every day with her saree.”
On 3 May this year, Jack, a 10-year-old Labrador, was ready to go for dinner in his grey sweatshirt. Everyone was waiting for him to join in the car outside, but he never came out. For Shalini Gupta, its 25-year-old owner, it became clear how she wished to share her sorrow: she wanted a tattoo in the memory of her dog. The next morning, she called up Tony Singh, a tattoo artist at Hawk Tattoos studio, Select City Walk, and told him to copy a framed picture of his pet.
Used for a variety of reasons ranging from beautification to tribal markings, the art of tattooing has existed since ancient times. In the recent past, it has become mainstream, often telling personalized stories of an individual’s culture and experiences. The artform also has a long history with trauma and world-changing events, from World War I to Hurricane Katrina.
A tattooed body, goes the artists’ mantra, is a communicative body. It speaks volumes – not only about one’s personality, but also about the culture. It’s a form of visual communication in a multiplicity of contexts.
Post pandemic, tattoo artists have noticed a shift in the way people perceive the idea of getting inked. It has become an outlet for making sense of our loss as we suffer from it and helps us move forward with a memory to look back to.
Inked with inspiration
Max, Founder at Inkin Tattoo Studio, Defence Colony, shares a painful story of his client. “A client was suffering from an incurable disease, due to which, she had lost her legs, a couple of fingers and had a miscarriage. The design we worked on for her was Venus – a symbol that represented her – and a daffodil”, says Max. Daffodil is a wildflower with no fragrance. Hence, the tattoo represented the girl’s life – which might have no fragrance due to the illness – but she still wanted to enjoy what it has to offer.
Another element in the tattoo was an African fern, a very rigid plant that can grow in any circumstance. “So, it represented her life and how she was coping with the disease. In essence, when you listen to such ideas and stories, it melts you. But then, it also teaches you that life is a struggle. The sooner you make peace with it, the better things will look”, says Max.
In fact, tattoos of courage and strength truly speak of an individual’s emotions and a particular phase of their life. The physical remark is indicative of one’s strength while coping with life’s ups and downs, which they wear on their sleeve with an equal pride.
Tanya, 25, a project coordinator by profession, found herself obsessed with tattoos partly because of aesthetics. But they have also helped her process and pay tribute to her emotions and experiences — particularly the lack of confidence. “I got two tattoos in the past three months and they helped me be calm and patient. One reads sabr (patience) and the other shukr (gratitude) – the former reminds me to be patient as nothing is permanent and every phase will bring a change in life, while the latter says to be appreciative of and grateful for what I have in present.”
RK Puram-based Bhanu Thakur was drawn towards Buddhism during the pandemic. He recently got inked with a vitarka – a mudra of Buddha. “Vitarka denotes the flow of energy and information, something that is so essentially required in today’s tough times”, he says.
Tattoos that cure
Speaking about how tattoos play a crucial role in healing and recovery, Adishree Khandelwal, a psychologist, counsellor, therapist and mental health professional, says, “Sometimes, tattoos are used by people as an art of self-realization and artistic endeavours, an expression of their identity and a sense of ownership of their own bodies.” This is why, she adds, a lot of people perceive tattoos as a way of grieving. Many people say their body is a book, and tattoos are stories. “Healing is a process, and it happens both inside and outside”, Khandelwal says.
For those who longed to travel but were restricted to the four walls of their house when the pandemic struck and the lockdowns were imposed, the tattoo studios offered designs ranging from a compass and a map to detailed mandala art.
Travel enthusiast Vipul Bhatia missed going to the mountains, so he decided to get a tattoo to quench his travel thirst right after the lockdown was lifted. He says, “I am a traveller by profession and at heart. I missed the roads, the mountains, the beaches and everything associated with travel. So, I decided to get a mandala tattoo that could resonate with my passion. I feel that a tattoo does a perfect job of being a witness to one’s true feelings. Whenever I miss travelling due to any reason, I look at the tattoo and get happy, at least at that moment.”
As tattoos, mandalas too can be symbolic of various things: one’s internal balance, soul and eternity, or something entirely different and unique. Bhatia adds, “The blooming look of mandalas mimics that of a flower. It can represent so many emotions in one pattern. Also, no two mandalas are the same, so you can really play around with the design and be sure that they resonate with you.”
Beyond getting inked
Pulkit Arora, the founder of Tribal Ink tattoos in Lajpat Nagar, talks about the advancement that has happened in tattooing, which is not just in terms of advanced techniques, but the evolution of the relationship between clients and their tattoo artists.
“The relationship between a tattoo artist and a client just doesn’t end after the client is inked, it’s more than that. It’s therapy for them and for us too”, says Arora.
He adds that the client and the artist discuss the designs and before zeroing in on the final version, they go through several drafts.
“After they are inked, we follow up with the clients during the healing process and give them proper guidance on maintaining the tattoo while taking care of their skin. With time, this relationship grows”, adds Arora.
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