There was a time when people frowned at those wearing tattoos. Thankfully this perception has not remained permanent like the ink in the tattoo. Times have changed over the years and tattoos are now considered as accepted in society.
A body art that was confined to labourers and ruffians is now embraced by upper and middle class societies. What’s great is that tattoo shops are mushrooming in Sri Lanka and tattoo artists are getting busier by the day. The future of tattoo artists is secure. What’s most important is that the tattoo culture has come to stay.
With people having tattoos growing in numbers, Weekend Nation thought it was appropriate to locate a tattoo artist and share some interesting facts and vital information about this art which has now turned out to be a very expensive fashion. The research the writer did revealed ‘Maori art’ that rugby players inscribe on their bodies is very popular in Sri Lanka. So it was more appropriate to interview a tattoo artist from Kandy; the city which often produces the best domestic club rugby team every season.
According to WAN Nishshanka, who runs a business named Ravi Tattoo in Haloluwa, tattoos are primarily worn for identification and to enhance a person’s appearance. “If you go to a beach party a person who has a tattoo will always display it. The satisfaction it brings and the morale boosting effect a tattoo has on a person can’t be explained in words,” said Nishshanka who has been in the tattoo business for the past 13 years.
A quick look into history shows us that the word ‘tattoo’ comes from Tahitian ‘tatu’ which means to mark something. Records also reveal that tattoos existed some 12,000 years BC. But Nishshanka’s research reveals that tattoos were found on some Chinese mummies which pops the question whether this period was older than the period where when Egyption Mummies were found? He even went on to state that body art in the form of mehndi was used by ladies during the Buddha’s time.
Nishshanka has evidence to show that the first tattoo machine was used in the world back in 1848. “The methodology used was what you see in an electronic bell,” he said.
But in most parts of the world primitive tools were initially used to inscribe tattoos.
“In Sri Lanka, people used betel stain and kerosine oil for tattoos. Thorns from trees and animal bones were used as tools,” is how he explained the manner in which pioneer tattoo artists served clients.
During this time art comprised single line drawings and had little detail. However, tattoo drawings have evolved and artists now use several colours and even go all out to oblige clients when they bring their own designs and drawings and want the same inscribed on their skin.
Tattoos vary from just a letter or symbol to large art that sometimes spreads across the entire back. Some tattoos take days to complete and are done in several sessions. Public perception is that those wearing tattoos are unscrupulous and should not be considered for employment. “The process of tattooing is painful and calls for great endurance from a client to bear all that. Isn’t this an indication of what stuff a man is made of,” asked Nishshanka.
This tattoo artist uses only imported raw material and needles to serve clients. According to him most artists charge around rupees 3,500 for outline art, rupees 6,500 for shading art and over rupees 100,000 when several colours are used.
Many people have the perception that since the tattooing process is painful, it helps the client to ease the pain if he comes intoxicated with liquor or marijuana. “This is very dangerous because when under the influence of liquor the body is in a state of dehydration and the skin dries up. This disturbs the process of the ink getting into the skin,” warned the 32-year-old artist.
Nishshanka said that tattoo artists earn a steady income when compared with graduate artists who draw for a living. But he pointed out that there were awards schemes to appreciate the efforts of the painter, but not the work of the tattoo artist.
He said that there is a possibility that tattoos inscribed on the fingers can bring health benefits. This is because there are certain acupressure points placed on the fingers. But he rubbished the idea that tattoos can bring in good luck and change a person’s destiny.
This artist said that it is a reason to be concerned that there is no recognized institute in Sri Lanka which offers a course in tattoo art. This is why he has made it a point to attend the Annual Tattoo Convention that’s held in London.
Tattoo artists see the need to keep themselves updated on the newest designs fancied by clients. Their wish many years ago was for the society to accept tattoo as a fashion and see the negative perception that once stained this business, washed away. In Sri Lanka this has slowly started to happen.