Women with Tattoos
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.

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.  
Parama Ghosh, Kolkata
Parama, my first subject from the Women And Body Art project. Parama is not just one person, within her is embodied Kolkata the city of joy; the Bangaliyana, that is the combination of culture, heritage, creativity and intellectual pusuit which make Bengali woman so sensual; And her love for Tagore. Parama has two tattoos both reflecting these integral part of her identity.

First is the seal of Tagore's Vishwa Bharati University on her shoulder blade, it was designed by Tagore's son and essentially signifies his initials in Bengali, র and ঠ. Having the seal etched on her body gives Parama a sense of belonging to Tagore. 

Her second tattoo is on the arm which is an image of Victoria Memorial, Kolkata with a larg Angel, as she believes in Angels, something good in everything she sees. 

Parama is paradoxically both a real estate lawyer a subject as dry and rigid it can be and an entrepreneur making art on textile and her start up story has been featured on Your Story. 
In our conversation she shared how everyone think a tattoo is not appropriate for a lawyer, it makes you come across as 'hippie' 'vagabound' 'non serious' and 'loose'. There was infact rules against body art in her previous workplace. People assume her in-laws must be very liberal to allow her to work late hours and then have such big visible tattoos. "I don't know, what has this got to do with liberalism and allow means what, it's not like I asked for their permission," she said.

Parama got both her tattoos after her marriage, and no she didn't need her husband's or anybody else's permission. She just needed yo be sure that this is what she wanted on her body even when she will be 80.

Does that mean 19 or 20 year old shouldn't get tattoos until they enter their 30s and be mature enough? "No, not at all. Even if it is a momentary expression, the tattoo still is a prt of your identity. Even if you get over it or don't identify with it anymore, it is a part of your past. You learn from it, you cherish it but you cannot run away from your past, or undo it. So why bother with a tattoo from the past," Parama explained
Vimala Surendran, Chennai
Vimala is an aviation professional, she loves the wings. She grew up as a free child, to egalitarian parents who never made any discrimination between girls and boys. She has many passions, one of them dancing, and to fly and laugh and be free. She fell in love with a fine suave gentlemen and got married. 

Soon after, she felt like she was losing everything she loved. As if she was losing her own self. Something was creeping up her life, heart and soul and consuming her. Like a vine draping around a tree and killing it slowly. 

Years later she realized her husband was clinically addicted to gambling, and he was draining all her finances, her blood and sweat. 

At 48, when she got free from the tendrils of her husband, she felt free again, first time in decades. Her Tattoo, a heart with wings, was her way of telling herself that its time to fly again. 
Archana Sekar, Chennai
Archana, activist, feminist, grew up in a protective privileged Tamil Brahmin family, with body image issues. She didn't know there are other things to be except doctors, engineers or lawyers. Around her she only met women who were like her and she didn't know another world until she went to college. Then suddenly, she met women from all types of class, caste, social, financial and religious background and before she knew it, the seeds of female solidarity was implanted in her. She didn't know what feminism was, but knew that we have to support each other, that we should all have a choice about our lives. 

She got her first #tattoo, a symbol of feminism the day she learnt that feminism actually has a symbol.
Nezhat Belgamvala, Chennai
Nezhat, Veterinary Doctor, has three tattoos, each one has a story, inscribed on her body to be remembered forever. She always wanted to have a tattoo but her mother would always say, first you get married and then do whatever you want. She had a love marriage and both her husband and she got their first tattoos together on their honeymoon. Since then they both get their tattoos together each time to commemorate something, birth of their child, their passion and so on. Each time they came up with a design where some elements were similar in both. Their tattoos are stories of love for each other, love for life. In this photo, I captured the poignant moment when her eyes still tear up as she remembers the three souls who left her, the horse, the cat and the dog. One of them she had to put down with her own hands, the toughest thing to do.
Megha M and Jael Varma, Bangalore
Megha and Jael were the main inspiration behind the Women and Body Art project. I have followed both for a while on Facebook and were fascinated by their personalities, enigma and beauty. Throughout 2016 I followed Jael's painfully beautiful updates about her tragic loss of her mother, they resonated with the pain my mother felt for over 50 years of losing her mother. I often wished Jael and my mom could meet and exchange their memories about their mothers. Then I lost my mother this year and meeting Jael became even more important. Though when we met, we didn't talk of pain. At Megha's place we had a gala time being the woman we are. For Megha, I can't even explain what I feel, she is so smart, intelligent, witty, and drop dead gorgeous, I can spend my life watching her animated narrative of weird men she meets, and the life she have had and is making.  

Jael is a survivor. A lover, a poet, a daughter. Don't call her a strong woman, she is vulnerable, she gains her strength from her vulnerability. 

Through 2016 I followed Jael's painfully beautiful updates about her tragic loss of her mother, they resonated with the pain my mother felt for over 50 years of losing her mother. I often wished Jael and my mom could meet and exchange their memories about their mothers. Then I lost my mother this year and meeting Jael became even more important. Though when we met, we didn't talk of pain. At Megha's place we had a gala time being the woman we are. 
Ahana Banerjee, Bangalore
An Intellectual Property Lawyer, (Barrister for her folks back in Kolkata, you know its an old school charm to address anybody with a British Law degree as Barrister, though technically everyone is not), one of Bangalore's top theater personality, a voice over artist, anchor, mimic artist, singer, painter and...this space would run out. Suffice it to say that when she was working in a top notch law firm with a Masters degree in Intellectual Property Law, from University of Nottingham, UK, she felt awkward. One of those days she had to attend an annual event in her office and she was siting in the audience, she just didn't know how to be on the other side of the stage, how not to be on the stage achoring, or singing or mimicking. 

Stage and limelight was where she belonged. But she is a Libran, and she had to balance her passion, with her very serious legal profession. It is in that search for balance where her tattoo, a mermaid fit in. But I will reveal that story, bit by bit. As of now some portraits of the brand Aahana Banerjee.

Shatarupa Bhattacharya, Bangalore
"I have done shit, all kinds of shit, that I am not proud of, but hey I bounced back didn't I?" Shatarupa Bhattacharyya came to the photoshoot at Cubbon Park, wearing a bright sun colour saree, which match perfectly with her tattoo, of a winking sun. A Phd in Development Studies, a theater artist and more, Shatarupa have survived depression and difficult relationships, and her tattoos tell that story. The orange hues of her saree made her bursting smile even more warm and it is hard to tell that she has gone through bad days. Something similar is the story behind the tattoos women wear.
Pratima Chaudhuri, Bangalore
When I met Pratima Chaudhuri for the Tattoo photo shoot, she told me one of my decade old travel stories, of a time when she wasn't even there, involving people I myself don’t remember. The writer in me was immediately intrigued by this fascinating woman. One has to be a deeply emotional and thoughtful person to have this level of emotional connection with someone she hasn’t even met.
When she told me her tattoo story, I realized my understanding wasn’t wrong. Pratima’s life has gone through many ups and downs. In particular, her love marriage went from being a fairy tale to a nightmare with every good thing coming crashing down on her, emotional and physical abuse from both sides, life seemed like an endless trail of disaster. There was nothing positive that she could look up to. 

Yet she was determined to make something good out of all that pain. Her tattoo is a dagger, cutting deep through her flesh and even as blood oozes out of it, they turn into flowers. She deliberately wanted a special type of flower, which are otherwise considered unlucky. Her tattoo is her way of telling every woman, never give up, it’s never too late, and there’s always something beautiful to be made out of pain.
Women with Tattoos

Women with Tattoos

Women with tattoos, and stories

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