Tattoo artists claim their canvass
A small machine shaped like a gun rings out in the small, brightly-lit room. A heavily-tattooed man with his long locks tied back in a ponytail dips a sterilized needle in what appear to be bottle caps filled with ink as his machine continues to buzz.
Like a painter claiming a canvass as his own, he begins masterfully bringing an image on bare flesh to life.
This is the art of tattooing, which takes years of practice and unwavering dedication to perfect it.
Unlike a painter who can always paint over his work when he is dissatisfied with the outcome, a tattoo artist only gets one chance: they do not have the luxury to make mistakes.
Tattoos are one of the earliest forms of body adornment, dating far back to the Aztec, Mayan and Inca tribes.
In recent years, the art form has regained its popularity after years of being shunned due to its associations with gangs and ex-convicts.
Like roses blossom in spring, tattoo parlours and studios are becoming increasingly popular in Windhoek to satisfy the demand, much to the delight of tattooists.
Fabian of Fabio Tattoos and Body Piercings opened his tattoo parlour in the heart of the Central Business District (CBD) early last week.
Fabio, as he is popularly known, explained that the art was becoming increasingly popular in the country because some of the stereotypes which were often associated with tattoos had been broken.
“People are not so sceptical anymore. They used to think that tattoos were for gang members and inmates, but now parents have children in their houses with tattoos on their arms who have never been to prison or in a gang”, said the tattooist who has been in the industry for a little over 23 years.
Plaiven of Youngish Tattooist who has only been in the industry for a mere two years and 5 months, concurred with Fabio.
“Tattoos are becoming popular in Namibia. People are now seeing them as a means of expression, as they speak on behalf of the person who is being tattooed,” he stated.
Most tattoo artists like Fabio and Plaiven are self-taught in the art because there are no schools in Namibia. Fortunately for would-be tattoo artists, veterans like Fabio are not opposed to the idea of passing on their knowledge of the craft.
If a prospective tattoo artist shows enough interest, Fabio encourages them to buy the necessary equipment, and trains them in the art.
One of the few female tattoo artists in Namibia, Ricci of Ricci Tattoos and Piercing, was fortunate to have been trained by Jimmy Adams some 20 years ago. Adams opened the first tattoo parlour in Woodstock in Cape Town.
Initially, Ricci studied graphic art and photography, but eventually moved on to tattoos when she met her mentor.
Although she admitted that the industry is growing locally, her fear is that some unqualified upcoming tattoo artists put the art at risk by using cheap, imitation products from China, as opposed to using authentic products because the countries which sell them require some form proof that the tattoo artists are indeed qualified.
Whether they have decades under their belt or a mere years, the general consensus among the artists is that it takes tireless hours of practice to master it.
“A good tattoo artist should be able to fix any mistakes without them showing. You need to know about different skin types and how to work with them, which is something you cannot learn from a book”, Ricci said. Scar tissue and infections can occur as a result of tattoos which are no properly worked.
Still, its popularity grows. After all, no art form is without its risks as a singer could lose their voice, a dancer could tear a ligament in their leg, a poet could experience writers’ block. They are all risks worth taking in pursuit of self-expression.
One thing these tattoo artists guarantee is that they will hold your hand through the pain, and make sure you leave with a masterpiece which reflects who you are on the inside.
by Faith Haushona-Kavamba