Body like a canvas | Sunday Observer

Body like a canvas

Conservative people think it is disrespectful to get body art as it was used on slaves. Others think that it is expression of oneself and something memorable. People also argue that tattoos represent criminal background and are not acceptable in a higher class society. Tattoos, started out as a part of tribal beliefs and expended into what people believe today is a form of self expression. And yet to grow and expand into a corporate world. There is also a segment in the society who argues that tattoos are a shame and will never be accepted by the professional world.

“With tattooing everything fell into place. My job allows me to travel the world, do what I love to do. I could not have asked for more,” says Dimmu Fernando, A talented and a well known tattoo artist in the country who is also a certified Yoga teacher and loves surfing. He shared some interesting thoughts on misconceptions on tattoos, issues related to the tattoo industry and many more in a recent interview with the Young Voice.


Not everyone would take up tattooing as a profession. How did it all start and how long have you been a tattoo artist?

This is my ninth year as a tattoo artist. Back then I was playing in a metal band while working. At one point I had to choose between my job and the band. I chose the band. Later I met Suren Fernando, my mentor from whom I learnt tattooing. I worked for him over three years. After he left the country, which was my fourth year and I took over his studio from the cash I had saved from tattooing.

What got you interested in tattooing?

I could always draw. As a kid I used to carry a sketch pad. I did not talk to people much. I would just draw and draw. Even when we went on trips I used to draw while the others were having fun. My mom would tell me that nothing matters to me if I have my pastels and my drawing book. I would not care about the world. Now I do not have the time to draw but I am going to start on it soon. Tattooing is pretty much drawing but you are not drawing for yourself. It is also metal music, rock and roll which got me into tattooing. I always loved tattoos. I always knew I wanted to get tattooed.

Tattoos are a much talked about and also a very controversial topic. There had been serious allegations made by several sections of the society saying the tattoo artists are not adhering to safety and hygiene. What are your thoughts on it?

We actually use the international standard safety measures even though we have not been given safety regulations by the Health Ministry. My opinion is that it may be because they are not into this matter yet. So we do not have guideline for safety nor hygiene. What we do is we lookout for the international tattoo artists and their guideline and follow those.

The Sri Lankan Tattoo Association including all the tattoo artists has sent a letter to the Health Ministry requesting them to regulate the industry and to provide us guidelines. We are working in a very controversial industry at this point. Proper guidelines would make a great impact on our profession. Meantime we are also going to put NVQ levels to have licence to run a tattoo parlour. For salons they have grades so likewise we also intend to do that with the tattoo industry. We have in fact handed those suggestions to the authorities. But we did not receive any response whatsoever from their end.

How diligent should a tattoo artist be? What needs to be improved with regard to safety and hygiene?

About hygiene, qualified tattoo artists must use everything disposable starting from needles to razors to the smallest thing used to do the tattoo. We even show them the needle before we open it and use everything new. Wearing a facemask is quite important to prevent even the slightest cold to a client or to the tattoo because we always face the tattoo. And a tattoo artist must get his blood checked every six months and put it up at the studio so that your clients know that you are clean and free of those ‘diseases’ people tell we have. We work with needles and it is a good safety measure for the tattoo artists as well. We wear gloves but still one should not take any chances. It is always good to have yourself checked. A lot of people do not know that. Not even the tattoo artists. Some even do not know that you have to use a mask. You have to educate them on all of those issues from a scratch and through our Association we are gradually make them aware of the importance of those.

Also I do not encourage minors to take tattoos and therefore I do not tattoo minors and that is a personal policy of mine.

What kind of misconceptions are there in the society with regard to tattoos?

One of the main reasons for the people to say that tattoos are a health risk is mainly because of misconceptions. One such mistaken belief is that people get AIDS and all sorts of other diseases because of tattoos. But in the history of tattoos there is hardly any cases found. In fact absolutely no cases to prove the above point. It is like a needle. The virus cannot live outside for a very long time. People also think they get cancer from tattooing. Well, you get cancer from Coca-Cola, you get cancer from the food you eat. You can not specifically say that it is from tattooing. It is just baseless. It is not proven and there are no records of anyone who has got cancer from tattooing. But there is a chance of lower level diseases like hepatitis. But that is also if you go to a wrong place to get your tattoo done.

If you do not want to spend much you will obviously end up going to a place or rather a store by the road side and get your tattoo. You do not know what that person is using. That kind of place will probably give you diseases. That is why people have to be really careful.

Tell us about the Association the tattoo artists have formed. How can a person join the association?

There are around 100 tattoo artists have registered in the Association. And there has to be at least another 400-500 who are not registered and running places without any of the safety measures or safe equipments. This is a small island so if there are good artists we would know. So at this point those are not the place for you to get a tattoo done.

Any tattoo artist who is willing to be a part of the Association and takes this profession seriously can join us. We have a website and a Facebook page too. It will be easy in coming years if the Govt. decides to take a look into our issues and regulate it. Once it is done, the members can get a license. So that the clients can go through the registry and check whether the person they have selected to get his/her tattoo done is a licensed tattoo artist or not.

We also have two events planned for next year, Sri Lankan National Awards for Tattooing scheduled to be held in February and Tattoo Convention in June.

You can follow Dimmu Fernando on,