In the world of fashion, where trends come and go, tattoos have gained a reputation for being an evergreen accessory. Getting inked is a rage these days. Tattoos are loved not just for their bold fashion statements, but because they bring out one’s personality. There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to getting a tattoo—from symbols and verses, scenes and portraits.  And yet, any choice you make can be personalised to suit your taste.

Vikas Malani, a renowned tattoo artist who co-founded BodyCanvas, a tattoo parlour in Mumbai, speaks to Guardian 20 about his association with top international celebrities, and his experiences of the past 18 years as a tattoo artist.

The public perception of the art of tattoo-making has changed in recent times. About the same, Malani says, “People now understand that tattoos are permanent and one of those few things that will stay with them forever. Rather than getting inked with something that is trending or is commonly done, people now are vying to get meaningful tattoos to which they have an emotional connect.”

He further adds, “In my perspective, that is exactly the way one should think about tattoos. Tattoos are something that we take with us to the grave. It’s not like shopping for a pair of clothes or shoes, which we can try on and change if we don’t like them. It has to be something meaningful and something that we can bear to see for the rest of our lives.”

BodyCanvas, which Malani co-founded with his younger brother Mickey Malani, is now a successful chain across the country and abroad. They have three studios in Mumbai, one in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village, and one in Greenwich, London. They have worked extensively with numerous celebrities, like John Abraham, Remo D’Souza, Aamir Khan for Dhoom 3, and Priyanka Chopra for Pyaar Impossible among many others.

Recently, World Cup-winning cricketer and former Australian captain, Michael Clarke got a tattoo by Malani. Clarke chose a tattoo that was inspired by his daughter: a cap featuring a clover leaf that his daughter loved. This was the idea, and Malani turned it into reality.

About having celebrities among his clientele, Malani says, “Celebrity is more of a status given to these individuals. At times we forget the fact that they too are humans like us. They also tend to enjoy the little time that they get for themselves and want to make the most of it by enjoying themselves and chilling. The experience with them is just like inking normal individuals who laugh at your jokes and have fun.”

Back when he started, tattoo-making used to be an unconventional career choice, especially in India. Malani talks about how difficult it was to establish himself in the profession. He says, “Two decades ago, the tattoo scene was completely different. It was more linked to sailors, bikers, criminals or junkies, and definitely not something that was seen as a viable career option. Even my family was not very open to me taking up tattooing as a career. There was a lot of struggle involved and it was mainly my mother who was my pillar of strength through those tough times.”

As a kid, he used to enjoy scribbling and sketching random designs. So, what started as a mere hobby, gained momentum as passion and later transcended into a successful career. Malani says, “My career started with drawing and sketching in my school days, which later changed to body painting during college and even later, with the constant positive feedback, it further advanced to tattooing.”

He has been a part of various international tattoo conventions. Besides being acquainted with more than 150 types of body piercings, Malani is also an expert of face and body painting. With his diverse experience and exposure to cultures of the world, he still remains a fan of tribal art. He says, “Tribal designs are among my all-time favourites. I still remember sketching a lot of tribal designs when I started out, and using that as a catalogue for the clients to see and select which one they wanted.”

How safe or unsafe the can process of tattoo-making be? There are certain safety measures a tattoo artist has to keep in mind before going forth with the design. Malani explains, “Tattooing is permanent and linked to the skin. One mistake could mark the person for life. No matter how much we say that we are non-judgmental, society constantly judges us, especially based on our physical appearance. When you are inking a person it should enhance the beauty of the person and not make the person feel as if he or she has made the biggest mistake of their life. Then, hygiene is one of the most important aspects that need to be kept in mind during the inking process by both the artist as well as the person getting inked. Ensure that the artist maintains high levels of hygiene, which includes both personal and studio hygiene during the inking process.”

To help the community in his own way, Malani worked up a unique CSR initiative. He hosted multiple tattooing workshops for acid attack victims last year in Delhi, Agra and Lucknow. The vision behind this was to train the survivours and equip them to pursue a career in tattoo-making. On working with acid attack victims, Malani says, “Working with them has been a really beautiful experience. I would rather call these people heroes instead of victims—these people who are shunned by society due to no fault of theirs. Working on converting their scars to beautiful masterpieces has been an enriching journey. I feel blessed that I have been able to provide a source of income and means for earning their living and they no longer would need to depend on others for their day-to-day needs.”

As advice for upcoming tattoo artists, Malani shares a few important pointers. “Maintain high levels of hygiene and ensure that you work ethically. Take proper training and understand the use of proper tattoo equipment. Try and understand the science behind tattooing so that you can counsel the client properly. Tattooing is more an art and the process of inking should be the most memorable experience for the client,” he says.

His brand also provides satellite BodyCanvas Studio services, for which they tour across Indian cities and abroad, to provide tattoos to clients who can’t visit their prime locations. Talking about the idea behind a travelling tattoo parlour, he says, “Satellite BodyCanvas started with the idea of ethical tattooing and being able to provide tattooing services to differently-abled people who can’t come to the studio. Everyone has the right to live their life to the fullest. Satellite BodyCanvas hence started with this idea of bringing a smile on the faces of such people.”

We have seen a significant development in the tattoo industry in the last decade. Being an insider, Malani has seen the industry evolve. He says, “Though media has changed the perception of how people now view tattoos, the tattooing industry has not been given the recognition that it deserves. Many see it as a means to make quick money. However, as far as the finances are concerned, it’s considered a high-risk job and most of tattoo artists do not have access to the benefits that they deserve.”

According to Malani, the future of the body art industry in India looks promising. He concludes with his views on the prospects of the sector. He says, “With the change in mindsets, I see this industry growing very fast. There are more and more people who are now taking up tattooing as a career option and choosing this as a way to express their love for this art.”

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