Tattoos! The word itself brings a range of human emotion! While some find tattoos a liberating form of self expression, others detest the idea of permanently etching their bodies while still others cringe at the sight of the rapid movement of the needle of a tattoo machine! Love them or hate them, in today’s world there is no ignoring the growth of tattoos in common culture. While there are multiple tattoo studios and tattoo artists mushrooming in our city, the story of Debanjali Das is a unique one. One of the first and renowned female tattoo artists of Kolkata, Debanjali has been tattooing for over four years and has managed to fulfill her dream of owning her own tattoo studio – The Guiding Monk Tattoos. A past client and an admirer, Ramneek Singh connected with twenty five year old Debanjali on behalf of The Beacon Kolkata to know more about the newest flag bearer of art in the city of joy.
An artist with a vision of pushing the boundaries of art, tell us a little about yourself
Since childhood, I have been artistically inclined. I believe that I was born with a natural flair for drawing and a knack for detail; and with time, I understood that I was good at it. One thing led to another and I eventually found my true calling in the form of being a tattoo artist. When I am not making tattoos, I indulge myself in travelling as much as possible. One little secret, I love to sing by myself, that’s a little sneak peek into my life.
What is the story behind choosing a career as a tattoo artist? How did it all start?
I despise monotony and dullness. In my adolescent years, I was very determined to be a graphic designer. Everything was going according to what I had planned. I joined the prestigious Govt. College of Art and Craft in the graphic designing department. I landed a job for myself in a multinational company as a graphic designer. However, while I was working there, I found out that there was no scope for creative expression.
I had to do the same “copy-paste” designing work over and over again to meet the client’s need. I got really fed up with no breaks and no freedom. One day I asked myself “Is this what I am going to do the rest of my life?” My good friend Rajinder helped solving this question and randomly asked me to try out tattooing. Life started to become more meaningful since the time I took up the tattoo machine and I have not looked back since then.
How difficult was it for you to leave a secured and well paying job as a graphic designer and take the plunge of getting into an offbeat profession like tattoo making?
It was challenging! But I was not scared of taking the plunge. While working as a graphic designer, I realized that I am an unconventional person. Working like a robot from 9 am to 5 pm was just not who I was. My motto in life was to do something that would uplift my soul which was not getting fulfilled as a graphic designer.
What would your dream tattoo comprise of?
My dream tattoo project would be a body suit completely based on the spiritual aspect of the universe. Probably depicting how the energy within us is immense and awakening the chakras can reveal all the untold mysteries of life! I think that’s going to be interesting and challenging.
A tattoo myth that you want to bust.
Nowadays, people are more educated about tattoos, but the education is only restricted to ‘do you use fresh needles on every tattoo’, but when it comes to hygiene the fact remains, there are lot more areas that one needs to keep in mind in order to prevent cross contamination, for ex : steel grips needs to be autoclaved every time they are used, the workstation needs to be cleaned before and after the tattoo, everything else should be wrapped and sterile, these are just a few of the important things which needs to be checked.
Which person/celebrity is your ultimate desire to work with?
I would really like to do a tattoo in collaboration with Yogesh C Waghmare (of Leo Tattoos), I really like his work and I believe that he is pushing Indian art and Indian tattoos on the world scene.
What are the three questions that you are tired of answering?
There are so many questions, but one mandatory question, does it pain a lot?
Then there is the ever irritating question, why do you charge so much, the other artist said he can do it cheaper?
The worst of the lot is when someone sends me a random image of a tattoo and asks how much would this cost? I firmly believe in originality and it is not possible to give an estimate for a tattoo just by looking at an image. I believe that in order to get something permanent etched onto your skin, one must take the effort of coming down to the studio to discuss about it in detail. It also increases the bond, to understand another person is also important to etch the permanent mark.
What is the most hilarious question you have been asked about your profession?
Is there a chance of getting HIV if I get a tattoo? (Imagine my life!)
What challenges have you faced while pursuing a career as a tattoo artist?
The main challenge was to face the criticism of the society. It’s a shame that tattoo artists are still not given the kind of respect given to a painter or a designer or any other reputed professional. I love who I am and even if given a chance I would never switch my profession with any other because I believe that this form of art is absolutely very tough. It takes a lot of time to understand the skin of a person. Something on paper can survive years but a person’s skin never remains the same, it is always changing! A great deal of understanding is required to make it survive on the skin! Stereotypical people always challenge me and it gives me immense satisfaction when I prove them wrong.
Being a woman in a male dominated industry, how does it feel to be one of the most renowned female tattoo artists in the city/country?
I faced a lot of challenges and I have been questioned in many ways in this male dominated industry. I had to face my share of politics around me. A lot of people tried to suppress me in many ways. Initially I used to feel bad but I took it as a challenge to achieve something. I am still learning to be a better artist and more importantly a better person. I believe that I am yet to achieve my dream. I have certain plans for my life till then I can’t sit and say that I am successful or happy. But yes, it does feel good to challenge stereotypes and be one of the first female tattoo artists of our country.
How has your family reacted to you choosing a career as a female tattoo artist?
My family was cautiously supportive in the beginning. But when they saw me happy, they did not bother me anymore. Luckily, art has always been an integral part of my family and they never differentiated between art on body or on paper. My dad loves to brag about me, he knows how well I am doing. Unfortunately sometimes he is questioned about my career choices but he never lets it deter his support. During my worst times in this industry my parents have supported me beyond their limits, and I believe that’s what families are for!
Now that you have opened the doors of your own tattoo studio, how do you feel?
Through “The Guiding Monk Tattoos”, I am trying to change the concept of “copy-pasting” in the tattoo industry by pushing and promoting originality. We at “The Guiding Monk Tattoos” boast of the fact that all our tattoos are hand drawn and are NEVER REPEATED! Also, the tattoo industry doesn’t have a very good name. The general notion is still that it is not an art. We believe that by promoting originality, we would hopefully change the mindset of the general public about the tattoo industry and gain respect for tattoo artists which they deserve.
I had to do the same “copy-paste” designing work over and over again to meet the client’s need. I got really fed up with no breaks and no freedom. One day I asked myself “Is this what I am going to do the rest of my life?”
What makes The Guiding Monk Tattoos different from all the other tattoo studios in the city?
The Guiding Monk Tattoos is like a dream. I had plans to make it in a certain way. Each and every tattoo that we make here is with love, affection and understanding the clients’ requirement. We try to connect with each and every client who gets a tattoo done from us as it would be a permanent aspect in their lives. The most important aspect why this studio is different is because not a single design is copied, I believe in creating, I think we specialize in that!
Hygiene is of primary importance to us, we really take pride in what we do, so everything that we use in the studio is state of the art and sterile, WE DO NOT CUT ANY CONERS WHEN IT COMES TO HYGIENE, PERIOD!
What is your advice to a person aspiring to get his/her first tattoo?
You will need to research well, while choosing the artist, check their portfolio and see if you like their style of work.
It is important to have an original concept it mind (no reference) before going for a consultation session, give creative freedom to the artist to draw your design as they know best what would look good on the skin and would stand the test of time and ageing of the skin.
An art on paper and on skin are very different and the knowledge to make a tattoo survive comes with trial and error over a span of years. I am sure no one wants a smudgy tattoo on their body forever! Also, the best tattoos are the ones which mean something to the client. Tattoos which have stories attached to them often tend to hold a lot more value to the client
What is the future of the tattoo industry in India?
The future is really bright! India is finally on the world circuit. Indian artists are amazingly talented. Gone are those days when one needed to fly to the states to get an amazing art work on their body. You name a style and Indian artists have mastered it. Artists like Filip Leu and Chaim Machlev have drawn so much inspiration from India, which clearly shows where India stands.
Here’s a big shoutout to Debanjali for championing the cause of women empowerment, one tattoo at a time! More power to you.
You can get in touch with Debanjali here –
Website : www.theguidingmonktattoos.com
Facebook : www.facebook.com/theguidingmonktattoos/
On account of International Women’s Day 2018, we went around the streets of Kolkata asking people about the most special woman in their lives. Here’s what they had to say.