The Woman with Tattoos – A photographic project to demystify her
By Sanjukta Basu
A search for the ‘self’ behind the tattoo, to demystify the identity of a woman with tattoos. To break the stereotypes against her.
July 2017 I toured five Indian Metro cities to find women with tattoos. I met around 15 women of various backgrounds and immensely powerful and poignant stories emerged. Stories of violence, pain, heartbreak, triumph, courage. Also stories of deranged life and inability to deal with depression.
I am now launching the project in Delhi NCR. This is an ongoing project, at the end of it I wish to publish a Coffee Table Book, and a photo exhibition.
I have no funding for this project, currently I am spending my own money in covering the set up costs, shoots and travel costs. I am searching for funding / sponsorships, so if you know anybody put me in touch. If any patron wants to support my work, I welcome financial contribution.
To be part of the project please fill out this form here
The project has gained mainstream media attention and was featured on The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, DT Next and New Indian Express. Here are the links.
For the stunning portraits and stories from this project from the project on my Behance Portfolio.
Watch me speak at a Seminar on Tattoos And Taboos organized by Museum of Art and Photography, Bangalore. I talk about my inspirations behind the project and my journey as a feminist photographer.
About the Project
In July 2016, 17 years old Aabesh Dasgupta died mysteriously at a friend’s birthday party in a rich and elite locality in Kolkata. A media circus and moral outrage soon ensued in which the media targeted Aabesh’s single mother and grandmother for their so called ‘debauched’ lifestyle which was held responsible for children’s ‘moral degradation’ with fatal consequences. “The grandmother has a tattoo” ran the headlines as the proof of the mother-grandmother duo’s ‘debauched’ lifestyle complete with ‘sex’ and ‘desires’.
While there is a long standing history of tattoo among various tribal women in India in rural parts, for urban Indian women it is a relatively new phenomenon, largely considered a rebellious fashion statement influenced by western culture. An urban male with tattoos is just that, a male. A stud at the most. But an urban woman with striking visible tattoo is a ‘scandal’. The moment she appears in public, several kinds of curiosity and assumptions build up in people’s mind, and not all of them are pretty. Tattooed women are often judged as non-conformist, rebellious, sexually active ‘bad girls’ who might be indulging in smoking and drinking. Perhaps worse, drugs! Or even worse, prostitution! She is probably rich and spoilt, never takes care of her parents, never learned to sing the morning prayers…a singular sight of ink on a woman’s body might trigger an imaginary downward spiral of moral degradation in most people’s mind.
And she knows it. So while going for a corporate interview she will wear a dress that would hide her tattoos. If she is already in a corporate job, she would think twice before getting one. She will ensure the tattoo is not too big and conspicuous. She censors her tattoo because she doesn’t want people to judge her on the basis of it. Who the real woman is behind the tattoo then? What is the story behind her tattoo? This project seeks to find out the ‘self’ behind the tattoo.
A tattoo is a powerful tool of self-expression for women. In the earliest stream of creative arts and literary moments, women didn’t get the opportunity to represent themselves. Men wrote about them, men painted them. But when a woman voluntarily gets a permanent mark on her body, it becomes a part of her identity, in her tattoo the corporeal and the cerebral merge and carries her life narrative, which this project seeks to document.