Tattoos – More than just body Art


With the tattoo culture becoming a trending fashion in the world, people are becoming more and more curious about the type of artwork, symbolism, style and sketching tattoos entail. Yet how did this artwork, which was once associated with criminals and outlaws and considered taboo, become  a mainstream part of society ?

The word “tattoo” derived from the Tahitian word “tatau” signifies body modification by the insertion of pigments into the skin by a sharp instrument dipped in ink thereby producing a pattern or a design. Tattooing dates back to the 4th millennium BC where evidence of the art has been found from mummified skins in Europe. Almost all the great civilizations such as Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Roman, Indian, etc. have proof of tattooing in their culture. Tattoos have been used on various kinds of people including high priests, chiefs, criminals, slaves, tribes, cults and secret groups to indicate social status and achievements.  Religious groups have also used tattoos to symbolize their beliefs. Although early Christians have used body inking as a part of their belief, with the discouragement from the church, it has gradually diminished. However, pagans still use tattoos as spiritual symbols of protection.

This art of permanent body painting which has come to Sri Lanka through western influences is beginning to have an impact on the fashionistas of the country now.  Although the art of inking the body was considered taboo and always associated with hard-core criminals, gangsters, low caste people and men, it is now becoming popular in the country and the youngsters including both males and females are embracing it as a self-expression.

The gradually changing perception of tattooing has given rise to several tattoo parlours in the country. Sri Lankan tattoo artists now have a platform to showcase their artistic talent by creating replicas, infusing different styles or adapting their own unique styles. While experimenting with creativity, they have also introduced several trending styles of body inking to the country.

Uditha Rangana from Soul Ink Studio mentions the different styles they use in their studio, “Roanna specializes in American traditional tattoos (tattooing based on black outlines, with a minimal, yet bold color palette), Kyle does black work (tattooing characterized by using only bold, black geometric shapes to make various images or designs), and I do mostly neo-trads (tattooing that has more realistic depth, shading, and detail) and portraits. In addition to these styles of tattooing, the latest trends of tattooing such as colour realism, black and grey realisms, geometries and tribal art are infused to create innovative artwork on the body.”

A trendsetter of the tattoo industry, Brando Chiesa, has introduced a new style of tattooing called “pastel gore” which is done using pastel colours such as pink, blue, etc. to create tattoos with a grotesque twist.  So similar to modern art, tattoo artists worldwide are experimenting and finding their own styles of inking.

In addition to the standard black colour used in tattooing, using white colour, a.k.a “whitening” has also become a trend now. However many prefer the standard black colour that emphasizes the tattoo over whitening which illustrates a lighter shade of the skin and is not that visible.

Although the stunning artwork tempts many people to get inked, there is one thing stopping them, and that is hygiene.  Hygiene which is a part and parcel of tattooing plays a crucial role in bringing in customers to the tattoo industry. Although prior incidents have been reported related to post tattooing hygienic problems, improvements have now been made in the tattoo industry to improve that situation.

“Hygiene is just as important as good artwork. We are very mindful of the hygiene of our clients. There is lot more than just changing the needles when it comes to hygiene in tattooing. The work station has to be clean and even after wearing gloves you cannot go back to tattooing after you touch a light bulb or something else without changing the gloves first. In addition to using the latest hygienic products, we will also soon be internationally certified with the BBP (Blood Borne Pathogens) Training for Body Art License from California” said Uditha emphasizing the hygienic standards his clients will be receiving.

Not only cleanliness of the tattoo artist, but also the after-care which remains the responsibility of the client, is also a significant factor in preventing contamination and infection. However it is the responsibility of the tattoo artist to keep the clients informed about the after-care methods. According to Uditha, the tattoo should be covered for 5-6 days and not more than 7 days, the tattoo should not be over -exposed to the sun and the skin area of the tattoo should be kept clean in order to prevent complications.

Although Sri Lanka does not have a heavily tattooed culture, the increasing demand of tattoos as a fashion statement is gradually creating a contemporary tattoo culture in the country. Tattooing is all about creating a mark of self expression; showing a part of your soul. While art brings out the emotions of an artist, tattooing takes it a step further and combines the talent of the tattoo artist and the emotions and personality of the client to create a masterpiece of the soul on the body.

By Sunali Fernando

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