Spreading energy and art

Spreading energy and art

Organising an event continuously for 11th edition is not an easy feat – you get discouraged, challenges tend to crumble you, and you may get bored too. But none of this is true in the case of Bijay Shrestha, co-director of International Nepal Tattoo Convention. Battling two biggest human catastrophes of the decades, and facing other challenges, he has successfully managed to put up the 11th edition of the Convention with an aim of spreading energy and art.

In an interview with The Himalayan Times, he shares about the challenges tackled, lessons learnt and fond memories as an organiser and a tattoo enthusiast.

You have been the Director of the International Tattoo Convention since its inception. How do you look at yourself coming to this 11th edition, on the backdrop of the Convention?

Being an organiser, I feel things go smooth but there are always hiccups when you do festivals of this magnitude. From managing electricity to sponsorship, there are ups and downs, but it ultimately goes on well. In the long run, it works out but it takes time. It gets difficult but if you are working with the motive to do something and with persistence, it turns out well.

On a personal level, it becomes difficult. When I was single, or married with no children, it was easy. But travelling with children as young as nine months is difficult. We stop our work back in Norway, the schools of children are disturbed. But we do it.

Where do you get that persistence to organise the Convention every year, and for such a long time?

We started it from the seed. It’s the respect for that mission, that’s where the motivation comes from. Wherever I live, I am always here for the Convention. My whole family comes here. It’s my personal choice, support of my family, and the satisfaction, respect we get from the artist community.

We get tired, but on the last day everybody goes back happy with memories and praises, and that gives us motivation.

Why are you attached to the Convention despite not being a tattoo artist or involved in tattoo business?

When we (Mohan Gurung and me) first discussed organising the Convention, Mohan was looking after the artists’ part while I looked after management. That’s how we have been doing even today. Now Om (Gurung) looks after artists. I was never interested in being a tattoo artist, but I do design. I do not have that much of dedication and patience to be a tattoo artist. But I respect this art form.

Have you met the objective of promoting tattoo as an art form in the case of Nepal through this Convention?

I think we have. Our Convention is all about spreading energy and art. The whole motive was to help develop confidence of Nepali artists. Down the line, in the past 10-14 years, the works of the artists have gotten better.

That’s because they have been able to communicate with that part of art – tattoo art.

When the artists’ photos are published in the newspaper, it makes a difference – you get that energy, and support. Our point is to create that support, which we have achieved. The one reason the quality of Nepali tattoo artists has improved is also because there is nothing else to worry about besides creativity and hard work.

The society, family has accepted them, and they are travelling to other countries.

Do you think the way tattoo is perceived in our society has changed?

Around 2009-10, there were very few tattoo artists. Now, there are many. In the past artists were mostly Kathmandu-based, and a few in Pokhara. Now you can find artists in Butwal, Bhairahawa, Dharan, and Chitwan. It indicates acceptance. We have managed to change the taboo regarding tattoo and make people appreciate this as an art form.

After organising the Convention for so many years, share one distinct feature that you have seen changed over the years?

It is the growth of Nepali artists at the international level. And the overall growth of the Nepali tattoo scene, which was our ultimate goal. We gave them the platform, and they did the rest themselves.

Any particular moment you remember as a challenge.

The whole episode of the earthquake (2015) was a challenge. The Convention that year was supposed to be my best as an organiser. It was the fifth year. Everything was the best in those five years. But it’s said uncertainty is a part of existence. Everything was superbly managed but god had different plans. Everything crumbled down to the point that many even said ‘the Nepal Tattoo Convention is over’.

But I was like ‘no, this won’t stop me from doing it again’. We stayed back, we had community from all around the world to collect funds. It made NTC more loved by the people from all around the world. Following the earthquake, I had thought, even if we did not do the Convention, some of us from different parts of the world will gather in Nepal, go somewhere, and tattoo each other. In the meantime, we started having other artists as they said, “The world needs to know you are still there”. Then we had one of the best conventions in 2016. It’s the trauma we went through and the love and support we got from the tattoo world.

How do you remember the impact of COVID-19 pandemic?

The plus point of COVID-19 is that in every form of art, the artists were like back to school. They were locked inside their rooms practising. As such there has been a tremendous growth in the work of artists post COVID-19. But the negative point is that travel has become very expensive. Business has reduced.

One lesson that you have learnt from these two major catastrophes that has directly affected the Convention.

I have learnt resilience. We are resilient as a human race. We came back after the earthquake, we came back after COVID-19. The point that we build, rebuild, come up and shine is very powerful. It’s crumbling down and coming back again.

Message for tattoo enthusiasts who want to visit the Convention.

Please come and see the growth of the Nepali art scene, vibes. Come and support the Convention that is all about promoting art. It is also freedom of expression. Also, do not judge any body, and respect each other. Come and celebrate, we have amazing food stall, good shows lined up, along with good artists.

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