It’s a less-known fact that our city is home to nearly 400-odd tattoo parlous, making it a thriving industry. Carving a niche here might seem like a near impossible feat but two women are successfully running a tattoo studio on East Coast Road that aims to create a revolution in the way people perceive skin art. While Mallika Chaudhari, who hails from a branding and marketing background handles the business front, the city’s only certified female tattooist Navya Rao lends the artistic touch.
The duo has drastically varying personalities but one thing that’s common is their love for art and the need to integrate a community of likeminds in Chennai. “Mallika and I have known each other only for a short while but she and I share the same views of bringing together artists from across the world. Travelling tattoo artists are very passionate about their work so it’ll be nice to have a community in Chennai,” says Navya. Using these groups, they wish to change misconceptions that tattoos only represent drugs or rock n roll when in reality it is a form of expression.
It is also Mallika’s dream to convert the studio into a co-working space for artists across different platforms. She says, “You find professionals in various fields collaborating — a DJ invites a colleague to perform with him/her. Similarly, if various tattoo artists can work under one roof, I feel we can offer so much more to clients.” Navya chips in, “I specialise in abstractism and expressionism but since we are all about creating and conceptualising tattoos from scratch, I could use inputs from others if we work together.”
This essentially means that if a client walks up to them asking for a tattoo that ‘looks cool’ or is the rip off of a design from the internet, they’re in for a surprise. “All our work is original — I’m not just a tattooist but an artist first. I usually sit down with clients, get to know them, and suggest what might suit them based on their body language, interests, positioning on the body and more. When a person is spending so much money and taking the risk to get inked for life, we might as well give them something mindful,” says Navya.
She certainly has come a long way from being the 19-year-old in 2008, who was turned down by a male artist from teaching her how to be a tattooist. “I had already been bitten by the ‘tattoo’ bug back then thanks to the YouTube videos and TV shows I would watch. I decided not to give up my dream because someone rejected me. So, I built a tattoo gun from scratch using my dad’s mini welding gun, DC coils and needles that were held in place with paper clips. Of course, it didn’t work but my dad recognised my determination and helped me order a Chinese tattoo machine,” she recalls. One step at a time, she began to learn how it worked and once she felt confident enough, this self-taught artist began going door to door giving people tattoos.
When stains on the skin healed scars in the mind
Four ‘This too shall pass’ holds an interesting place in Navya and Mallika’s lives — firstly because they designed a beautiful tattoo for a client using the phrase, and because of the ups and downs the duo has faced in their personal lives. Mallika tells us that Raisa, her younger sister, wanted to be a tattoo artist but before her dreams could come true, she succumbed to cancer. Knowing something had to be done about this, and as a way of channelling the pain of years of trauma on her family and her, Mallika decided to venture into a territory she never expected she would.
At the Goa Tattoo Festival earlier this year, her body turned canvas for tattooist Gauriishankar Mistry. He created a massive, intricate peacock design starting from the nape of her neck all the way to her calf muscles. While this might have normally taken three months and multiple sittings to achieve, Mallika sat for 60-odd hours at a stretch without much food or sleep and allowed her skin to be inked. “It was the most painful experience of my life but all I could think of was that I had to finish it; I had to reach the end. Those 60 hours helped me overcome a great deal of mental trauma and showed me how tough I can be,” she says.