Black Art is a Panampilly Nagar-based tattoo studio run by Pramod K. Is tattooing all that popular here? If that's what you are thinking, then Pramod's answer is a resounding yes!
The Unseen factor
So your next question should be - How come we don't see anyone sporting tattoos except maybe the ‘odd' actress? That's because most people get tattoos where people cannot see them and according to him, the most unlikely of people sport tattoos. And we've just got to take his word for it because he runs two tattoo studios in the city, and has an experience of around six years in the business.
A trained graphic designer, Pramod stumbled on to tattooing. A six-month course in Malaysia and he was ready to ‘ink', and the logical choice was setting up a tattoo shop in Fort Kochi, given the traffic of overseas tourists. That was six years back. Black Art is his second tattoo studio.
Getting a tattoo is not as simple as bracing yourself for the pain (that is of course there). Clarity is one and being of voting age is important. One cannot get a tattoo juts like that. It is like on Miami/LA Ink, a tattoo is the result of discussions between Pramod and prospective ‘tattoo-ee'. “There has to be clarity; for both parties involved. The design and dimensions are put down on paper, and shown to the client. Only then do we proceed.” Every aspect is worked down to the last minute detail. “It avoids hassles later, of all kinds,” Pramod says, with a laugh. A tattoo is forever…because getting it off is tough and expensive.
Tattoo is personal art which in the past was associated with deviant or socially unacceptable behaviour. There are some who frown upon tattoos, but it is generally acceptable. “Families come together even if it is just one member (usually male) getting a tattoo. It has to be okayed by all families before the design gets a go ahead.” And inevitably another member gets a tattoo as well, ‘but that's generally married couples.'
Personal iconography – images or symbols that are important to a person find expression through tattoos. For instance religious icons (Ganesha is popular) or symbols or images associated with love (sweetheart's name etc) and even those relating to one's profession find expression through ink. Tribal designs are popular, then there are angels, butterflies, flowers etc. By the way if you have thinning eyebrows or scars on your eyebrows you can get a tattoo and cover it up. Or if you want a beauty spot , Pramod will do that too.
The ink, Pramod says, is vegetable dyes, and these are permanent (unlike on garments where they run for their lives) since the ink is inserted on the second layer of the skin. He warns against tattoo joints, the fly by night kind, where a combination of henna and hair-dye is used as tattoo ink.
Doctors, software professionals, those working in the hospitality industry, housewives, college students….talking to Pramod it sounds like everyone's getting a tattoo. And when so many people are doing something there are bound to be stories, stories galore. Some are outright hilarious. For instance a girl who is to be married or engaged in a couple of days was brought to his studio. She had a tattoo of her now ex-boyfriend's name or initials and the parents wanted it off. In comes cover-up tattoos, meant for love gone awry and botched up tattoos.
There are many ways of getting a tattoo done, it all depends on how you look at it, literally. “When you look at it one way it will be your name, read it from another angle it will be someone else's name.” Getting tattooed is addictive, there are people who keep coming back for more.
A peek into his tattoo studio puts to rest doubts about the cleanliness and hygiene of the whole process. It would give most medical clinics a run for their money. The room where the tattoo is done is sterile and clean. He imports the equipment required for tattooing. The needles once used are destroyed and the entire machinery is then dismantled and sterilised. He even got health department officials to inspect the premises and made the minor changes they recommended.
Talking of needles, the needles are three point, five point, seven point etc. There won't be three or five needles that the tattoo artist will jab you with, these are very fine needles which the lay person will not know or doesn't need to know. The design decides how many needle points will go into you. Is it very painful? “No, just a wee bit,” says Pramod. A tattoo needs to be looked after initially, till it gets under your skin.
There are painless tattoos, which are temporary. But Pramod does not offer these off the counter. “If it is for specific purpose like a photo shoot or film shoot I will do it. Otherwise no!” How long each temporary tattoo will last depends on the skin type. Some wear off faster and some last, and… let's just say he likes peace.
Filing it all
He has a meticulous system of ‘filing' each tattoo. Each tattoo has been photographed and catalogued. “This is expensive. So some people come and get it done in instalments and I need to know the continuity, and other details about the work to avoid confusion.” A three sq. inch tattoo at Black Art costs Rs. 2,000. Then how come the man who holds forth on tattoos does not sport a single spot of ink? He says he is waiting for his tattoo Master, an expert of the Yakuza genre of tattoos, to do it for him.
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