In an urban group of friends, it is very common these days to have someone with tattoos. The culture of tattooing is relatively new in Bangladesh but the practice is on the rise. After talking to different tattoo artists and people with tattoos, Nahid Riyasad constructs the tattoo scenario of Bangladesh
Farzana Zahin Lira is a fresh business graduate from a private university of Dhaka and plans to mark this day on her body, by getting a tattoo, the new trend in the town. Though unsure of what she should get for her first tattoo, the though comes suddenly on her mind. As her grandfather was a freedom fighter and he told tales of his valiant efforts to free this country when Lira was just a baby, she develops a special bonding with him and his memories of 1971.
Lira’s grandfather closely protected his belongings from those days of struggle and Lira chooses his boots for her first tattoo. A little bit of memory, a photograph of an old pair of muddy boots tattooed on a youngster is telling the story of the struggle of an entire nation.
Nina Chowdhury, a young professional, is excited because she is getting a mole tattooed just below her lower lip. ‘I have always thought that a mole here would make me prettier and my boyfriend has one on the same spot. So now it’s time to get a matching mole which is permanent as well,’ she says.
Her boyfriend, however, is not as excited as she is, ‘I would never have anything tattooed on my body because my religion does not approve permanent tattoos,’ says Shahin Alam. He also adds that this practice is not well accepted in our culture.
Borrowing his concerns, Nina becomes anxious about facing her family later that day and starts making explanations in her head.
Tattoo culture is gradually emerging in Bangladeshi urban scenarios. Not long ago, one might be hard pushed to find a tattoo studio run by a good artist and proper equipments, but gone are those days. In the last few years, following the current trend, there are as many as thirty tattoo studios in regular operation in Dhaka.
New Age Youth contacted Saidur Rahman Bhuiyan, one of the earliest tattoo artists in the Bangladeshi context. ‘You can find as many as 6 to 7 tattoo studios at Dhanmondi alone. More promising is that most of them weren’t even in the scene even a couple of years ago,’ he said.
Saidur has not always been a professional tattoo artist and he had to overcome a lot to come this far. He was graduated in computer science and engineering from University of Bangalore and a post-graduation diploma in design from University of Tsukuba in Japan and worked at different headquarters of technology giants across south-east Asia.
‘I got my first tattoo from a mela at Shakhari Bazar area of the old town of Dhaka back in 1997, when I was in grade 7, for Tk 10 only. I got serious infection from that roadside tattoo and had to undergo treatment for a long time which made me realise the importance of safety issues in the art of tattooing’, he remembers his first tattoo experience.
Saidur also shares his journey of becoming a tattoo artist with New Age Youth, ‘I utilised the long break after my SSC in 2001. I went to Mumbai and attended Mumbai Tattoo School for a three-month long extensive training programme to learn the art of tattooing. That course worked as my foundation and later I did two more courses in Nepal and India to strengthen and update my theoretical and practical knowledge,’ he says.
When he was asked to describe the two decades of tattoo scenario of Dhaka, Saidur says, ‘The trend is really new. When I started tattooing professionally back in 2010, I was the only artist. Later a couple of more artists came but the studious were always in and out of the business frequently. I tattooed for free in my first year. When I stopped, I started getting calls from potential customers who would like to have a tattoo. In 2013, I seriously thought of starting a studio as a full-time work’.
Not every tattoo artist is as determined as Saidur though. Fahad Ahmed was a young tattoo artist, who after graduating in business studies from East West University, was working at a foreign company at Dhaka. After rising as a prominent artist in the Dhaka scene in the earlier part of this decade, he no longer does tattoo.
‘Tattooing has always been my passion and never thought of doing it professionally. That is why I made a work station at my home rather than hiring a proper studio. Now I am happily married with a child and lot of responsibilities. As of now, I am focused on my job and not sure whether I will ever tattoo again in my life. I have a social circle to maintain and many see my passion as deplorable because of social and religious practices,’ he asserts.
Saidur Rahman describes the transformation of customers’ demand over the period of time. ‘Previously, people usually like to do different small design tattoo or tribal tattoo but now the scenario has entirely changed. I often get customers who come to me with their newborn child’s first photo or finger print or their pet or even grandfather’s signature from old family documents. This means that people are doing tattoos of things that they have memories with or want to make memory with it in the future’, Saidur informs.
According to artists, the tattoo trend is really booming in Dhaka after the laser removal is becoming more available to the people. Because of this availability, many people are viewing tattoo as cosmetic options and even tattoo permanent eye brow, eye line or mole. Also, as urban people are becoming more fashion conscious, tattoo is becoming an inevitable part of their self-expression and their self-constructed identity.
Currently, the second generation tattoo artists of Bangladesh are gradually entering the tattoo scenario, though they have to go a long way to earn their names like their predecessors. Even though there are no formal tattoo art learning institutes in Bangladesh, many professional artists are offering apprenticeship to aspirant artists. Saidur Rahman is one such artist who offers a three-month long course.
As of the second generation artists, three of his students are now operating studios at Sylhet, Faridpur and Chattogram. So, the demand and practice is no longer confined to urban middle class youths, rather, it is spreading in other parts of the country.
Bablu Chakma is one such second-generation tattoo artist, who is trained by Saidur. New Age Youth contacted Bablu, who is now at his home town Rangamati studying the market there for his first tattoo studio. He tells his story of getting involved with tattoo and future plans to become a professional artist.
‘My introduction with tattoo was from televisions. I spent few months in Singapore and got involved with tattoo community there. I learned a lot of things about tattoos from famous artists but did not start my professional training. When I came back home, I found Saidur bhai and started training under him. Now, I am out there looking for opportunities to start my own studio. This is dream coming true,’ Bablu tells New Age Youth.
He also hopes to be the pioneer in tattoo art in his home town Rangamati, as there are no professional tattoo studios there currently.
New Age Youth also contacted Jitu Sayem, who has a hair-cutting saloon at Hazaribagh Dhaka and also works as a part-time tattoo artist. ‘I have no professional training in tattooing but I can do it with local pen inks and different needle. People on low budget come to me for tattoos. I have done it on a lot of my friends and they haven’t faced any safety issues yet’.
However, Saidur Rahman, a veteran in Dhaka tattoo scenario asserts that before doing a tattoo, it is of utmost importance that the customer becomes sure about the safety procedures as well as the quality of the equipments because this is a permanent thing and quality doesn’t come cheap. ‘The expiration date of the ink, brand and origin of the ink, availability of disposable needles, quality of the ink caps, use of glove and solutions are to be checked before doing a tattoo,’ he says.
Inks originated in different countries like India, Japan and USA varies quite a lot in terms of quality and longevity. Also, ink should always be sourced directly from the company or authorised dealers to be ensured about the quality.
Doing business through online social media platforms are becoming more popular and every kind of business is trying to get their share out off it. However, according to Saidur, online does nothing in this field. ‘A tattoo artist does not get customers through social media rather this business runs on referral system. When you get a good tattoo, you vouch for that artist and your friends are going to trust you because you are bearing a work of that artist on your body’.
New Age Youth contacted few young professionals and students to understand their perception and experience with their tattoos so far. Nasrin Humayra a young banker has quite a few tattoos on her hands. While sharing her experience with them she says, ‘as I work in a bank, I have to deal with a lot of people on a daily basis and many of them have a stigmatised view about them. Quite a few colleagues of mine also, on regular basis, condemn me for having visible tattoos as this is not permitted in Islam and in our culture’.
Zisan Mahmud is a student at a Dhaka private university and just got his third tattoo. While sharing his experience with his tattoos he says, ‘my family does not approve of me having tattoos but I am quite stubborn on my personal wish so I got them. Friends are more or less liberal about accepting them and some are genuinely interested. One friend of mine has just got his first one and says I am the influencer’.
There are nineteen types of patters that people do tattoos on around the world and some of them are black pitch, dot work, mandala, water colour, Polynesian and Maori designs. Among them, only 3-4 are common in Bangladesh but artists are picking up on new designs types according to the demands, says Fahad.
On the future prospect of this art form, Saidur thinks that if the current trend persists, in the next 5 years, two to three hundred tattoo studios will emerge in Bangladesh which can help tattoo becomes a full-fledged art form in our country.
The emerging tattoo scenario in Bangladesh has immense potential because it allows an individual to express their identity as well as keep a memory of something beloved on their body forever. Cultural construction and religious sentiments will only accommodate these feelings when people become more comfortable and familiar with them.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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