Sticks and Pokes won’t break your bones

More often than not, we associate tattooing with something that is new or cool and trending. But tattooing is not just the new kid on the block. For centuries, it’s been a form of art used to express our ideas and beliefs on our bodies. And while today most of us get tattoos from artists wielding high-precision machines, once, the traditional method was the more ‘human’ stick-and-poke technique. By choosing SnP, you choose human touch over machine.

Meet Shreya Josh, a 22 year old SnP artist from Delhi. Actively dispelling the stigma and trying to promote the craft that requires you to be as adept as a machine with your hands, she spoke to us about her craft:

1) Why stick and poke tattooing?

There are many reasons why I choose stick and pokes over the machine. Firstly, it just came naturally; there was no time when I forced myself to learn this art. Since it was so accessible and slow there were no apprehensions to practicing on skin.

Secondly, I love everything analogue. I’m not a big fan of machines or anything digital. Even in college, I loved drawing by hand or carving wood rather than the digital renders or CNC. Hand poked tattoos are very intimate and create a soft environment, I appreciate the labour and love that is involved in their making.

2) How much has studying in Chicago helped you in applying this art in India?

Going to Chicago was definitely a smart decision. I learned a lot about art and being independent. I learned how to keep an open mind about different art styles and personalities. It was also critical in character development. I learnt that having a specific art style which is not very realistic (which is highly appreciated in India) is alright. It is important for me to be true to myself, even if that means losing clients.

Mostly, what I took from SAIC (School of Art Institute, Chicago) was it’s interdisciplinary aspect – to be able to smoothly move from one medium to another. As much as I love tattooing, I never want to confine myself to just that. I still love making tiny sculptures or paintings once in a while, and whenever I’m inspired to express myself in those mediums, I do it.

3) Why decide to drop out and take up internships?

College can get very hectic, especially when you’re studying furniture design and you have to handle going to a wood shop, making digital renderings and studying for liberal arts classes like math and history. So when my parents suggested I take a year off and come back to India, I didn’t hesitate.

I thought I could work in a few product design stores in Delhi to get an idea of the game, but all I was doing was sitting behind a desk and designing, which really, really bored me because, like I said, I love working with my hands. But I understand that we have extremely talented artisans in India who can carve furniture more accurately and faster than me and at cheaper rates.

So I quit 3 jobs in a month and started working from home on functional art and started naturally dying garments and working with ceramic. But I am also a very go with the flow person So when I got the internship with Cara in New York, I had to go!

4) Have you encountered any stigma around your art?

Yes, I encounter a lot of stigma, but only due to presumptions. Many people only know of stick and pokes as a tribal tattoo style, with unhygienic conditions, using bamboo or thorns as needles, and reusing these needles.

So when I tell people I use sterile steel needles, at once they feel much more comfortable. There’s also the fear of SnPs hurting more than machine, or fading faster, but that’s all false.

5) What other hurdles did you have to overcome as a woman in this field?

Honestly, not many. Of course my style is very dainty and floral or art-baby, so most of my clientele ends up being women but I don’t see that as a hurdle, I love tattooing women! There are men too who like getting tattoos in my style, but only a few.

The only problem arises is when my family looks at all the tattoos on my body and tells me to stop tattooing myself because it will be harder for me to get married. In this generation, I find this to be a stupid thing to say to a girl.

6. What’s next?

Next? A studio space for sure. Somewhere in Delhi in the next two months. I will still primarily give tattoos by appointment only, but I plan on going there everyday just to make art and get a routine running. I feel like I have been laying around for too long. But I plan on hosting workshops, life drawing sessions, art markets, maybe sell my friends artwork in a corner and definitely my tattoo kits and art.

It’s safe to say that SnP is safe when done right. Shreya is a dynamic artist who could be the trailblazer to a whole new art style and movement in India. Catch her in action in Bangalore, conducting workshops in Mantri Sarovar.  And check out more of her work on Instagram.

Written by Chinmay Manoj

Image credit – , Shreya Josh


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