When one thinks of ‘art’, one automatically thinks of paintings or sketches, but we rarely think of body art. For the longest time, tattoos were linked to rebels, gangsters and the mob, but we often tend to forget that the Northeast has a long history with tattoos. Many tribes across the region have traditional tattoos that were a part of the local culture. But with time, the cultural significance was more or less lost. When tattoos regained popularity within the youngsters, elders would automatically link it to defiance or rebellion, instead of artistic expression. The Neon Tattoo Festival, held over three days at Shilpagram, Guwahati, was aimed at breaking the taboo linked to tattoos. Tattoo artistes from across the region, the country and abroad, attended the festival.
Breaking the Taboo
The founder of Ripz Tattoo and Piercing, Ripon Basak, shared, ‘I have my roots in Assam and was born and brought up in Jorhat. I had always wanted to host a tattoo festival. And so, it is very much like a dream come true.’ He shared that the main aim behind the festival was to create awareness about tattoos and also do away with the taboo linked to it. ‘We want people to understand that tattoos are more than a style statement. Tattoos are emotions; they are stories and a form of expression. The Neon Tattoo Festival is aimed at bringing talented artistes together under one roof. People are always talking about taking NE to the world but we wanted the world to come to the Northeast, which is why we invited artistes from across the globe.’
The organizing team also focussed on knowledge sharing. ‘The artistes get to showcase their talents, but there is also exchange of knowledge. Many tattoo artistes who participated at Neon had never been to any sort of tattoo convention before. They were anxious about interacting with seniors in the field. They didn’t know whether they would be welcomed or shunned. This doubt stopped them from venturing out. Here, the seniors have been very supportive and they are visiting the young artistes and helping them out with advice.’
Learn and Grow
Pallav, a tattoo artist who participated in the festival, shares, ‘This is a very big convention. Many national and international tattoo artistes have booths. It is not only a great platform for young artists, but it is also inspiring for amateur artists who want to pursue this line in the future. Also, when you are competing against one another, it motivates you to push harder and helps improve your own skills and that is exactly what is happening here.’ The festival saw many local artistes showcase their skills, including Rubik Inks and Art Studio. The team from Ulubari shared that the festival is providing a great opportunity for artists to get the exposure they need. ‘Not only can people see the kind of work we do, but they can also have a better idea about tattoos and what they mean.’ The booths were full of tattoo enthusiasts lining up to make tattoos from the best of the best. DJ Tony, who already has about 12 tattoos, was adding another one to his list. ‘I feel great attending this festival. As a tattoo lover, I am pretty excited to check out the booths. I am making an experimental tattoo from my friend at Rubik Inks and Art Studio. It’s going to take a while but it will be worth it.’
Despite the common misconception that only men prefer to take up tattooing as a career, many female artistes were inking it up at the festival. Dipti Chaurasiya from Street Culture Tattoos in Mumbai was in the middle of a tattoo when we approached her. ‘I am having a great time. We have come for a convention in Guwahati for the first time and we are so glad that we came. Everyone is pulling all stops to give their best and we plan to do the same.’
The festival received a lot of love, so much so, that the organizers got calls from interested artistes about the next season even before first season came to an end. ‘We have started getting calls, enquiring about the next season. We want the next season to be even grander, with more guests from outside the country.’