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Mumbai Gets Tattooed...!
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Al Alva, formerly a commercial artist, puts his skills to the test at his Bandra studio where he recently worked out an alien and some sparkling mushrooms for a client who wanted a fun theme, and tattooed realistic pop-up veins along the forearm of another customer. According to him, it is important to have imagination for this job since; people coming to the tattoo artists just have an idea. One has to visualize it into something more tangible. And for those who pick popular themes like Kanji characters, barbed wires and tribal symbols, Alva personalizes the motif to make the tattoo unique. His tattoos then, become unique to the wearer even if they can`t be called uniquely his.
However, Alva refuses to tattoo anti-Christ and torture scenes. "I don`t believe in some-thing like that," says the artist, whose left arm bears a portrait of Christ. "Instead I try to get people to change their choice. It usually works."
At Khar`s Funky Monkey, Ronni Froberg likes it best when he is challenged. Froberg admits that in his field, 70 per cent constitutes flash work (where a tattooist simply transfers an existing style on to the clients` skin). But according to him it is the 30% of original work that that an artist has to live for. It perhaps explains why Funky Monkey has a fair share of `regulars`, with eight out of 10 people coming back for more. He claims to have no signature style though, lamenting that most Indians see tattoos only as another must-have fashion accessory, without holding much meaning for the wearer.
He has had young girls as clients who tell him that since they wear a lot of pink they want a tattoo to match or they pick the same old themes and tell him to make theirs unique. He has around 500 Om symbols done so far. And he is running out of ways to make new ones. Froberg also draws the line at disrespectful imagery like alien Buddhas with ganja.
But flash work is not a problem for Vishwas Dorwekar. Whether he is attending to a celebrity client like Avantika Birla at Worli`s "Scissors Over Comb" salon or tattooing a Hindu priest under a naked light bulb in his dingy VT workshop, it`s all done freehand. Though being the third generation tattoo designer, he has kept his traditions in mind when he designs. Since he also studies astrology, if a motif is inauspicious he goes ahead only if the client insists.
Dorwekar also counsels people on where to place their tattoos to avoid bad luck. And while his original works include religious portraits, Dorwekar also modifies trendy tribal art to incorporate mystic symbols like the Om or the crucifix. But while these artists are eager to innovate, despite the restrictions of their living canvas, most have self-imposed rules on what they will not do.
Dorwekar respects his clients` wishes, even if they sometimes border on the bizarre. Like the time a Solapur man wanted his name on his consenting wife`s forehead or the fan from Pune who has the names of all of Rajesh Khanna`s films tattooed on his body. "There`s no telling what people will want," says Dorwekar, "so I listen to my father`s advice: Become like Arjun and look only at your work."
Dorwekar is indignant about the fact that the government ignores tattooing as an art form. "We can`t get handicraft status because we use a machine," he says, "And there is no association here." And while both Alva and Froberg still have the face or name of an old girlfriend tattooed on their bodies, they just warn a lovelorn client that the tattoo may last longer than the relationship. And they both suggest them to either get something they can cover up later or put the word in a different language.
Alva brings up the old complaint that tattoos still earn a deviant tag, but adds that his family is proud of his work. "My father doesn`t speak English so he can`t tell people I have a tattoo parlour". So he says, "My son is a Tata-BirIa instead. I`m happy to be in such esteemed company." he grins.