To tattoo or not to tattoo—that is the question. For the majority of youth these days, it’s not ‘will I get a tattoo?’, but ‘what tattoo will I get?’ At what point did tattoos step out of the army and into the general public? I ask Google that question and surprisingly the answer is that in Western culture, tattoos became popular in the 1960s among bikers and hippies. And by the 1990s tattoos were most popular among, strangely enough, white suburban females. Certainly, growing up, I do not remember anyone having a tattoo except for old ex-army guys who had mundane things like skulls and crossbones and hearts with their lover’s name. One friend, when we were both in our 20s, had a selection of bad tattoos on her inner wrist. But she had been a gang member in her younger days and her tattoos were related to that time.
The tattoos I saw in the early 2000s were still not what you would call pieces of art. Then suddenly tattoos came out of the dark into the spotlight. With better inks and equipment tattoos are now much more sophisticated, and everyone wants one.
Tattoos have of course been around for millennia. Here in Nepal Tharu women decorated their legs with tattoos to ensure they appeared beautiful to their future husbands. Star, moon and sun tattoos can be seen on the faces of Newar, Gurung and Magar women. These tattoos were made with a mixture of fire dust, milk and plant extracts. Recently traditional tattoos have been dying out although I am interested to know if they are being revived among the young generation now that tattoos are seen on every celebrity.
I think the middle generation, the parents, would have something to say about this and wonder how many Nepali sons and daughters have hidden tattoos. I once commented that there are a lot of Buddhas, Shivas and the like tattooed on Nepali guys. I was told “father cannot complain if we have god tattooed on our bodies…” And if granny scolds, just point to the little crescent moon above her lip.
You must have guessed by now that I am getting round to talking about the International Tattoo Convention being held here in Kathmandu this weekend. I’m an avid supporter of this event and annually spend at least two whole days soaking up the atmosphere and marveling at the talent of the artists. Artists from all over the world come to take part in this event but among the best of them are artists from Nepal itself. There is no denying their artistic ability and local artists regularly take away red ribbons from this event.
Many people go to the convention specifically to get a tattoo; and it’s quite an experience getting inked under these circumstances. Here is an opportunity to get a lifetime piece of artwork from an international artist at a fraction of the price it would cost you in Europe, the US or Australia. Visiting artists are encouraged to price their work at a rate affordable to the locals. And the majority are happy to do this. Remember to get there early to grab a time slot. I have been disappointed twice when the artist I wanted was too busy with other clients.
But even if you are not getting a tattoo, there is plenty to see. Watch others getting inked; be amazed at the heavily tattooed artists and visitors this event attracts; enjoy traditional dances; witness the daily competition for the best tattoo and the ‘best of show’; get a piercing; watch traditional hand poked tattoos being created, and perhaps this year there will be someone doing scarification or some other extremely painful looking work. And why not count the number of Nepali guys being god inked! See you there.