Saidur Rahman, a veteran tattoo artist working from his studio located in Dhanmondi, Dhaka.
In a group of urban friends, it is very common these days to have someone with tattoos. The culture of tattooing is relatively new in Bangladesh but the practice is on the rise. After talking to different tattoo artists and tattooed people, Nahid Riyasad builds bangladesh tattoo storyline
Farzana Zahin Lira is a recent business graduate from a private university in Dhaka and intends to mark this day on her body by getting a tattoo, the new trend in the city. Although she doesn’t know what she should get for her first tattoo, the thought suddenly comes to mind. As her grandfather was a freedom fighter and he recounted his valiant efforts to liberate this country when Lira was just a baby, she develops a special bond with him and his memories of 1971.
Lira’s grandfather closely guarded his possessions from those days of struggle, and Lira chooses his boots for his first tattoo. A bit of memory, a photograph of an old pair of muddy boots tattooed on a youngster tells the story of an entire nation’s struggle.
Nina Chowdhury, a young professional, is thrilled because she has a mole tattooed just below her lower lip. “I always thought a mole here would make me prettier and my boyfriend has one in the same place.” So now it’s time to get a matching mole that’s also permanent,” she says.
Her boyfriend, however, isn’t as excited as her, “I would never tattoo anything on my body because my religion doesn’t approve of permanent tattoos,” says Shahin Alam. He also adds that this practice is not well accepted in our culture.
Borrowing from her worries, Nina becomes anxious about facing her family later that day and begins making explanations in her head.
Tattoo culture is gradually emerging in Bangladeshi urban scenarios. It wasn’t that long ago that you might struggle to find a tattoo studio run by a good artist and proper equipment, but those days are over. In recent years, following the current trend, there are up to thirty tattoo studios in regular operation in Dhaka.
New Age Youth contacted Saidur Rahman Bhuiyan, one of the first tattoo artists in the Bangladeshi context. “You can find as many as 6-7 tattoo studios in Dhanmondi alone.” What’s more promising is that most of them weren’t even on the scene until a few years ago,” he said.
Saidur wasn’t always a professional tattoo artist and he had to overcome a lot to get there. He has a degree in computer science and engineering from Bangalore University and a postgraduate degree in design from the University of Tsukuba in Japan and has worked in different headquarters of tech giants across South Asia. South East.
‘I got my first tattoo of a mela in the Shakhari Bazar area of Old Dhaka in 1997, when I was in grade 7, for Tk 10 only. I caught a serious infection from this roadside tattoo and had to undergo treatment for a long time, which made me realize the importance of safety issues in tattoo art “, he recalls his first experience of tattooing.
Saidur also shares his journey to become a tattoo artist with New Age Youth, “I took advantage of the long break after my SSC in 2001. I went to Mumbai and attended Mumbai tattoo school for a training program deep three months to learn the art of tattooing. This course worked as my base and later I took two more courses in Nepal and India to strengthen and update my theoretical and practical knowledge,” says- he.
When asked to describe Dhaka’s two-decade tattoo storyline, Saidur said, “The trend is really new. When I started tattooing professionally in 2010, I was the only artist. Later a few other artists came, but the studious were still in and out of business frequently. I tattooed for free the first year. When I quit, I started getting calls from potential clients who would like to get a tattoo. In 2013, I seriously thought about starting a studio as a full-time job”.
However, not all tattoo artists are as determined as Saidur. Fahad Ahmed was a young tattoo artist who, after graduating in business studies from East West University, worked in a foreign company in Dhaka. After becoming a prominent artist on the Dhaka scene earlier this decade, he no longer does tattoos.
‘Tattooing has always been my passion and I never thought of doing it professionally. That’s why I made a workstation at home rather than renting a real studio. Now I’m married with a child and lots of responsibilities. From now on I am focused on my work and I don’t know if I will tattoo again in my life. I have a social circle to maintain and many consider my passion deplorable because of social and religious practices, ”he asserts.
Saidur Rahman describes the transformation of customer demand over time. “Previously, people usually liked to do different small tattoos or tribal tattoos, but now the scenario has completely changed. I often get clients who come to me with the first photo or fingerprint of their newborn or the signature of their pet or even their grandfather on old family documents. It means people tattoo things they have memories with or want to do with them in the future,” Saidur informs.
According to the artists, the tattoo trend is really booming in Dhaka after laser removal became more accessible to people. Due to this availability, many people consider tattooing as cosmetic options and even permanent eyebrow, eyeline or mole tattooing. Moreover, as city dwellers become more fashion-conscious, tattooing becomes an inevitable part of their self-expression and self-constructed identity.
Currently, the second generation tattoo artists in Bangladesh are gradually entering the tattoo scenario, though they have to go a long way to earn their name like their predecessors. Even though there are no formal institutes for learning the art of tattooing in Bangladesh, many professional artists offer apprenticeship to aspiring artists. Saidur Rahman is one such artist who offers a three-month course.
As second generation artists, three of his students now operate studios in Sylhet, Faridpur and Chattogram. Thus, the demand and practice is no longer limited to urban middle-class youth, rather it is spreading to other parts of the country.
Bablu Chakma is one such second generation tattoo artist, trained by Saidur. New Age Youth contacted Bablu, who is now in his hometown of Rangamati to research the market there for his first tattoo studio. He tells his story of getting involved in tattooing and his future plans to become a professional artist.
‘My introduction to tattooing came from the televisions. I spent a few months in Singapore and got involved in the tattoo community there. I learned a lot about tattoos from famous artists but didn’t start my professional training. When I got home I found Saidur bhai and started training with him. Now I’m looking for opportunities to start my own studio. It’s a dream come true,” Bablu told New Age Youth.
He also hopes to pioneer the art of tattooing in his hometown of Rangamati, as there are currently no professional tattoo studios.
New Age Youth also contacted Jitu Sayem, who has a hair salon in Hazaribagh Dhaka and also works as a part-time tattoo artist. ‘I have no professional training in tattooing but I can do it with local inks and different needles. People on a budget come to me for tattoos. I’ve done this on a lot of my friends and they haven’t had any security issues yet.”
However, Saidur Rahman, a veteran of the Dhaka tattoo scenario, says that before getting a tattoo, it is of utmost importance that the client is sure of the safety procedures as well as the quality of the equipments as it is a permanent thing and quality does not. not cheap. “Ink expiration date, brand and origin of ink, availability of disposable needles, quality of ink caps, use of gloves and solutions should be checked before making a tattoo,” he says.
Inks originating from different countries like India, Japan, and the United States vary a lot in terms of quality and longevity. Additionally, ink should always be sourced directly from the company or authorized dealers to be assured of quality.
Doing business through online social media platforms is becoming more and more popular and every type of business is trying to make a profit from it. However, according to Saidur, online does nothing in this area. “A tattoo artist doesn’t get clients through social media, but this business operates on a referral system. When you get a good tattoo, you vouch for that artist, and your friends are going to trust you because you’re wearing that artist’s work on your body.”
New Age Youth reached out to a few young professionals and students to understand their perception and experience with their tattoos so far. Nasrin Humayra, a young banker, has quite a few tattoos on her hands. While sharing her experience with them, she says, “Since I work in a bank, I have to deal with many people on a daily basis and many of them have a stigmatized view of them. Many colleagues of mine also regularly condemn me for having visible tattoos because it is not allowed in Islam and in our culture”.
Zisan Mahmud is a student at a private university in Dhaka and just got his third tattoo. While sharing his experience with his tattoos, he says, “My family doesn’t approve of me having tattoos, but I’m pretty stubborn about my personal wish, so I got them. Friends are more or less free to accept them and some are genuinely interested. A friend of mine just got his first and says I’m the influencer.
There are nineteen types of designs that people do tattoos on all over the world and some of them are black pitch, dots, mandala, watercolour, Polynesian and Maori designs. Among them, only 3 to 4 are common in Bangladesh, but artists are adopting new types of designs based on demands, Fahad says.
On the future prospects of this art form, Saidur thinks that if the current trend continues, in the next 5 years, two to three hundred tattoo studios will spring up in Bangladesh, which can help tattooing become a full-fledged art form in our country.
The emerging scenario of tattooing in Bangladesh has immense potential as it allows an individual to express their identity and keep a memory of something they love on their body forever. Cultural construction and religious feelings will only accommodate these feelings when people become more comfortable and familiar with them.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.