The pandemic has forced us, as individuals and as a collective, to confront parts of ourselves that we haven’t had to before. Whether it is to explore dormant passions and desires, or to give space for inner reflection and growth in the face of devastating loss and uncertainty. Over the last year or so, this has gradually started showing up in body art.
The body art business, which took a massive hit during the lockdowns of the past year, has seen people approaching artists with concepts, ideas, and designs they have been ruminating over during this transformative period. Such creative collaboration is resulting in tattoos that are intricate and intentional, carrying great personal significance for both the artists and the clients.
Symbol of hope
“The concepts that people have brought to me lately include rising from the ashes, overcoming difficulties and appreciating the good things in life,” says Esha Varpe, a dentist-turned-tattoo artist who co-runs Moths and Owls Tattoo Studio in Mumbai. Varpe is known for her custom designs that feature a rich use of symbols drawn from nature. Dragonflies, peonies and phoenixes are among those that stand out in her repertoire.
Among her clientele is Anita Prasad, a 35-year-old management professional, whose personal life took a few harrowing turns during the pandemic. “I walked out of an abusive marriage last year, and my mental health suffered immensely in the subsequent months,” she says. “I was so depressed, I started contemplating suicide—I thought my whole life was over.”
Getting a tattoo was among the many things Prasad did on her road to recovery. The design on her forearm features a butterfly, the Tibetan word for faith, and a heron in flight under the sun as well as the moon. “These symbols represent my endurance, my faith in god and my deep love for life. Every time I look at them, they remind me that I can overcome any difficulties on my path,” she says.
Permanence and change
The pandemic also gave many people the time to get decisive on long-held tentative tattoo plans. Kohinoor Darda, a UK-based dancer and cognitive neuroscientist, got an elaborate tattoo in September, to symbolise the contrasting aspects of her identity. The design features the sun and the moon, the heart and the brain and a symbolic representation of the Ardhanarishwara (the androgynous form of Shiva and Shakti).
While the design itself represents totality and duality, for her, the act of tattooing itself carries several layers of meaning. “It allows me to see my body as a piece of art, as mere matter. Getting it done has reinforced my authority over my own body. And it represents yet another duality—that of permanence and change,” Darda says.
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Indeed, while tattoos are considered a serious investment given that they are permanent, realising the fleeting nature of life itself seems to have inspired people to get designs that catch their fancy without worrying too much about their deeper meanings. Karthik Bengre, artist and proprietor of Sculp Tattoos in Bengaluru, has lately taken to creating designs featuring insects and claims that several of his clients have expressed fascination for this work and even gotten inked with these designs over the past few months.
Grief and memory-keeping
Bengre also gets clients who request portraits, names, and illustrations of memorabilia to commemorate the loved ones they’d lost during the pandemic years. “I had a client who lost his grandmother during the pandemic, and as he was grieving, he started noticing that a ladybug was constantly following him around. He started associating the ladybug with his grandmother. The symbol became a source of strength for him, reminding him that she was still with him in spirit, so he got it tattooed,” he says.
“Symbolism is a great way to tap into the essence of an experience. By reflecting on what a person, a memory or an idea might look like as beings or symbols in nature, we can find what we resonate with,” says Bengaluru-based counselling psychologist Vani Subramaniam, adding that “such tattoos help us turn the wisdom, the learning and the evolution of our selves into art that we carry around on our bodies.”
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