Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tattoo - a love story through the ages


RICARDO Malcolm smiles nervously as he waits for the needle to touch his shoulder as the smell of antiseptic fills Ink River Tattoo Parlour in Vincent.

For a short while, Malcolm seems to be distracted by his unusual surroundings.
Relaxing, he makes a joke and plays a soccer game on his cellphone. But, within minutes of Paul Botha’s inking needle drilling into his shoulder, Malcolm wants to throw in the towel.

It’s his first tattoo and he had not anticipated the relentless pain as Botha begins the one-and-half-hour session to etch Italian master Leonardo da Vinci’s face on his body forever.
Malcolm chucks his phone to one side, forgetting the game as he bites down hard on his lower lip, furiously twitching his knee.

“Are we there yet,” Malcolm mumbles to Botha who responds with an irritable, “No, I’m still going to put in colour”.

“My God, this is worse than going to the bush. It’s tough,” Malcolm says of his R600 ordeal.
For every design that adorns the walls of tattoo parlours around the world, there is a different reason to have it.

Every single person who has been lured into the world of body art will offer a unique explanation for having it done.

Many go back – again and again – until their own skin has been transformed into a walking, breathing picture gallery.

For East London primary school teacher, Bradd de Klerk, it appears to be an obsession that began with a small tattoo on his back in 1998, when he was just 16 years old.

He is in the process of transforming his upper body into an artwork that tells an oriental story of courage, wealth and prosperity. Just two weeks ago he had a big dragon and a peony flower inked on his back. A colourful Japanese Koi covers his entire left shoulder. His DJ stage name, Buska, decorates his lower back. All this at a cool price of R7200. Today, he will return to Davide Di Raffaele to have the dragon shaded.

De Klerk, however, is quick to insist that there is nothing obsessive about saving up money to return to Di Raffaele’s tattoo parlour in Nahoon.

“I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed because there are certain areas I wouldn’t tattoo. I think if I was obsessed I would have gone mad and tattooed my face and everything.

“Personally, I won’t touch my face but I’m a bit addicted. So I still have got quite a bit of space to cover up if I have to. I prefer to do things where I can keep them covered because of my profession,” De Klerk explains.

Similarly, Janine Klopper seems to have been bitten by the tattoo bug. Barely 20 years old, she’s had three tattoos done on her body in a space of a year; her most recent one being a tribal tattoo on her arm.

It all started with a small rose on her shoulder. A week later, a tribal heart on her lower back followed.

“I don’t really have a specific reason for doing it. I just love the art and the fact that you can put anything you like on your body,” says the college student.

Her parents initially didn’t approve of their daughter having a tattoo but today her father, Chris, flaunts Jesus’s cross on his shoulder. After Janine’s session, he makes an appointment to have another one done.

And then there are the artists, the masters who trace designs on their clients’ skin, painstakingly – and painfully – draw the lines and colour in the patterns.

East London has three tattoo and piercing parlours – Body Graphix owned by Di Raffaele, brothers Paul and Tony Botha’s Vincent Ink River Tattoo and married couple, Desrei and James Holman’s Alien Station in Vincent. They specialise in tattooing, piercing and permanent make-up.

Di Raffaele and Tony used to be friends; in fact, Botha claims he taught the younger man all he knows about tattooing. He still keeps a picture of the young Di Raffaele being tatooed by him in his shop.

They worked together years ago and then Di Raffaele left to open his Nahoon studio where he now works with his wife, Rushin, who does all the piercing which, incidentally, is a whole other world of the bizarre and exceptionally painful.

A quick chat to Rushin brings forth a photo album that I wished afterwards I had never opened. There, a different East London is exposed – genital piercing abounds here. A picture of a penis’ head cut in half sends an involuntary wince of pain and shock down my spine. Rushin says most clients believe these piercings enhance sexual pleasure.

But back to tattoos.
Manuela Gray of Wildlife Tattoos in Cape Town said the industry has grown to such an extent that local artists have started collaborating with their international counterparts.
Next year, Cape Town will host Southern Park Ink Exposure – a convention that will draw artists from across the world.

“This is the first event of its calibre in this country. It will give credit to our craft as well as opening local artists to designs that are huge internationally. It is a nice opportunity to meet people who do the same thing that we do,” says Gray, the convention organiser.

Cape Town is believed to be the empire of the tattoo industry. This is where artists like Di Raffaele get their bodies inked. But, unlike in East London, Cape Town’s municipality and the Department of Health, together with artists, have to adhere to rules and regulations to guard against hazardous waste being dumped near households or the tattooing of underage children.
Buffalo City Municipality has a draft environmental health by-law underway that regulates the physical space where tattoos are done.

There is no deterrent in the proposed bylaw about tattooing underage children.
Those rules are left to individual artists.

Di Raffaele, for instance, will not tattoo certain body parts like the face, throat, hands or toes.
Looking at how people are so caught up in the body modifying industry, it’s difficult to believe that the practice has been around since the fifth century. Back then, various cultures adopted it, turning it into a rite of passage to mark status, rank and bravery.

“In the old days Amabaca (a Xhosa tribe) used to cut their children and put charcoal in the wounds. And when the missionaries came and said it’s evil, they (Africans) continued cutting but stopped using the ash. Tattooing is definitely not new to Africans. The modern generation thinks you have to be from Europe to have a tattoo,” explains Tony Botha.

In modern times, tattoos evolved with different generations. In the 1960s, it was associated with those who were considered to be society’s rebels. The bikers came and made the art their own. Gangsters and prisoners use tattoos as a mark of belonging. Today the hip-hop and pop generation have taken it to another level by introducing new funky designs.

But, by far, the most grotesque association with tattoos came in the 20th century when Jews were forcibly tattooed at concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

A few hours after Malcolm has manfully sat through his ordeal, I call him to monitor his recovery. While he is happy with the Da Vinci tattoo on his shoulder, he is adamant that Paul will never see him again.

I, however, who had been totally anti-tattoo when I embarked on the story, am now thinking that a Chinese symbol that depicts my star sign on my shoulder might just do the trick for me.
l Ricardo Malcolm is an alias.
Article Source: http://www.dispatch.co.za/article.aspx?id=194438

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