Life & Style

Tales in ink, on skin

A mother gets a tattoo to celebrate a first child. A vet does, to remember a beloved, furry friend she had to put down. An abuse survivor uses it as a mark of her liberation. And they’re more than willing to talk about it.

There is a story behind every tattoo, and it isn’t always one of spontaneity or rebellion. “Though those are good stories, too,” says travelling photographer Sanjukta Basu, whose next project revolves around women and their body art.

“I have realised over time that women are always willing to talk about their tattoos, because a listener who doesn’t judge is still rare in this day and age,” says Basu, as she takes a break from bonding with a subject in a Korattur home . “When a man gets a tattoo, it is associated with being something of a stud,” which, she observes, isn’t something a man has to be ashamed of. “But for women, tattoos are associated with a certain kind of lifestyle and mindset, which isn’t always positive, nor always true,” she says.

Tales in ink, on skin
 

So, Basu set off on a trip across three cities to listen to some stories and dispel some myths. Eventually, when she has raised enough funds, she says she plans to travel across the country and capture tales of women from different classes, castes, tribes, ages et all. Having left Kolkata and rounded off the second leg of her trip in Chennai, her lens has a lot to say already.

“A woman on my Facebook timeline first stirred in me the idea of stories behind tattoos. She had recently gotten out of a bad marriage, and was in the process of coping and healing. Once in a while, she would get a tattoo done, post it on social media, and explain the meaning behind it, recalling her victory over difficult times. The tattoos mark her liberation,” recalls Basu.

Love for stories

The urge to know these stories was strengthened by the journey of Basu’s own experience with a tattoo. “ I always wanted a tattoo, but couldn’t think of a design that would mean enough to ink my skin. It had to be something picked up from my personal experiences. In my 39th year, I finally knew what I wanted,” she says.

“I had finally come to accept the fact that I was not the kind of woman who has a 9-to-5 job, steady career or domesticated marriage. My life has no set direction. I go with the flow, and I’m fine with it,” says Basu, citing this very project as an example . “I didn’t take up this project as part of some five-year plan or with some income in mind,but because I love this idea.”

Tales in ink, on skin
 

Letting the mind free

Her tattoo portrays this breeziness, with it’s squiggly lines that denote the sea, it’s birds, it’s boat and the words, “Wherever the mind takes me.”

Basu has spoken to a number of women about their tattoos, and has appointments with almost a score more. It’s easy to see why they open up to her. She puts the camera away at first, andgets her subjects talking about their lives, loved ones, passions. She gives them time to put difficult memories in words. She laughs and emotes with them. Then, once it is clear they are at ease, she picks up her camera.

Basu only clicks when the conversation is in flow, because, for this photographer, your life, your story, your attitude and your emotions are just as important as your tattoo, if not more.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 6:01:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/feminist-photography-through-tattoos-across-india/article19342698.ece

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