Taking Nepali tattoo scene to the next level

Taking Nepali tattoo scene to the next level

Promoting tattoo as an art form of Nepal and displaying its rich culture, the three-day tattoo extravaganza – 11th International Nepal Tattoo Convention kicked off at Heritage Garden Sanepa, on April 5.

The first day of the Convention that began with the chanting of mantras by some Buddhist monks (lamas) from Boudha had a laid-back atmosphere on the first days except for a few artists/booths. Most of the artists seemed more busy setting up their stalls, catching up with fellow artists and getting to know the ambience.

Of course the venue was filled with tattoo enthusiasts flaunting different styles, from black and grey to geometrical patterns and more, an overwhelming scenario of all the art lovers out there.

A few young artists seemed occupied with their machines since early morning, even before official inauguration, to ink their clients, along with getting their pieces ready for different competitions held during the Convention. As per the organisers, there are a total of 92 booths featuring 180 artists from different parts of the world.

Besides tattoo artists, stalls, and competition, they are holding a photography workshop for studios and artists (on April 7), providing a platform for new Nepali musicians as well as a piercing show (on April 6) and more. In the backdrop of the Convention, The Himalayan TimesSharada Adhikari caught up with one of its co-directors, Om Gurung, to know about his vision of the Convention and his memories, lessons learnt and motivations. Excerpts:

How has your experience of preparing for this year’s Convention been?

It has been similar to the recent past years. In the initial years, we had to make Nepali artists understand about the Convention – it was our challenge. In the case of foreign artists, the challenge even today is to bring them because of the fact that we (tattoo artists) charge (customers) very low as compared to the global tattoo scene. But as the artists have to come from abroad, airfare is very expensive. An international artist charges from $200-$400 per hour back home, but we charge Rs 4,000-Rs 7,000 per hour. So, if international artists come in our rate, it does not cover their expenses. But we had to convince them.

Having said that, in the recent years, our Convention has become like a brand, and the artists tell one another that they should come to Nepal as holiday while also attending the Convention. We have also designed the Convention that way – to give exposure to our artists, to make the local crowd aware that tattoo is not a bad thing, and to showcase our culture and art to international artists.

So, how has the participation of the artists changed over the years?

I remember sending invitations to some 300 international artists in the first year of the Convention, but only 20-25 of them responded, and very few among them attended.

Before this Convention started Mohan (Gurung) uncle, while travelling to different conventions of the world, would tell the artists that at some point in future he would organise a convention and that everyone should come there. It started gradually from that point.

Now artists can attend it exclusively by invitation. Once the registration is open, we send invitations to limited artists who have attended in the past and most of them come. Others get to know about us via word-to-mouth from those who’ve been invited and they approach us expressing their wish to attend the Convention.

This year, the repetition of artists is less compared to the previous years, it must be around 20 per cent. Otherwise, in the past years there used to be a repetition of 40-50 per cent of the artists. They must have come back because they liked our Convention.

Where do you see Nepal in the global tattoo scene?

Nepalis are not less than international artists, they are doing well. London Tattoo Convention was regarded as one of the biggest tattoo conventions of the world. World’s best tattoo artists would try participating in it. It has stopped now after one of its two co-founders passed away during COVID-19, and the founder Miki has started Gods of Ink tattoo convention in Germany. Not everyone is able to attend it. But this year, two Nepali artists – John Ma and Soonil Xhead – are taking part in that convention scheduled for mid-April.

How do you think the Convention contributed to the Nepali tattoo scene?

The Convention has played an important role in promoting the tattoo scene of Nepal. Also, tattoo has become so popular in Nepal that in the past if there was one artist in one studio, now there are five-six artists; if one person had one studio in the past, now one has many outlets. In the past, while allocating booths for artists, we used to provide 70 per cent for international artists and 30 per cent for Nepalis. At that time there were few Nepali artists, and most didn’t want to take part in the Convention. Then it was 60:40, and this year it’s 55:45 in 92 booths.

You are in the 11th year of the Convention. What motivated you to keep going?

When we started the Convention, the foreign artists used to ask, ‘Do Nepalis make tattoos, are there artists too?’ Slowly people started doing tattoos here.

And once these international artists attended the Convention, they came back repeatedly. They also recommended other artists to experience this Convention of Nepal. But I never felt I wanted to quit and most probably will never do so.

You run Mohan’s Tattoo Inn and are a piercer. How do you view this Convention as someone who does not do tattoos?

It is a good platform for tattoo artists. This Convention is best for self-promotion. Mohan uncle always talked about holding the convention, but we thought of organising it once we got a good team. Bijay dai who had come to get tattoo with Mohan uncle came on board and we started the Convention. Mohan uncle was its face, I looked after artists’ part, Bijay dai looked management. We three were together for five-six years, now we two are handling it though uncle is not with us. I feel proud being a part of it.

Can you share one distinct feature in the tattooing world that has changed over the years because of the Convention?

It has uplifted the tattoo scene of Nepal. In the past we had to convince Nepali tattoo artists to take part in the Convention, now they ask for space on their own. Nepali artists are winning competitions in international conventions. It’s a big thing that Soonil Xhead won one at Gods of Ink. Also, parents bring their children to the tattoo studio to get inked.

One lesson that you learnt from catastrophic events like the earthquake of 2015.

When the earthquake struck in 2015, it was the second day of the Convention; all of us panicked as it was our first time experiencing it. Many artists wanted to return to their countries but their important documents were inside the hall of the hotel where the convention was taking pace. We stayed in the garden of the hotel where a Japanese friend counselled us not to panic, said its normal in Japan and that aftershocks were natural. There were recurrent aftershocks. Despite that we managed to take out the artists’ documents. The artist friends who were with us then are still with us, except one or two. We bonded so much then that the artists upon returning to their home organised ‘Tattoo For Nepal’ – they sent us the money they earned from tattooing on Saturdays, which was used to help quake-affected people.

Your message for tattoo enthusiasts.

We have been organising this Convention to showcase our culture to the world. So, please come and experience it.

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