INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Naisha Richmond Tariang

Almost every culture across the world has a history of tattooing, as a medium of self – expression and art form. It is slowly gaining popularity in Shillong and a few tattoo artists are leading the way.

Meet Naisha Richmond Tariang, Meghalaya’s first woman tattoo artist. Here is the full interview –

SS: Tell us something about yourself

Naisha: I was born and brought up in Shillong. Completed my education in Shillong. I studied in Loreto Convent School and St. Edmund’s College. I majored in English Literature.

I was always into art – sketching and painting. Eventually started tattooing when I met a tattoo artist in Shillong. He approached me after seeing my work on social media and wanted to know if I would be interested in apprenticing. I just finished my Bachelors at that time and wasn’t really doing much. Said ‘okay’, nothing wrong with learning something new. So that’s how it started in 2016.

While the training was on, I suddenly realised that I was actually really interested in doing this. I enjoyed this and decided to pursue it professionally. The apprenticeship was for a few months and then I moved to Kolkata to work with Calcutta Ink. Was there for almost 2 years. Moved back home 2 years ago. I started my own studio here. I also started my art page around the same time and branched out to freelancing.

SS: Under whom did you do your apprenticeship?

Naisha: PhibanNongkynrih

SS: Did you ever think of tattooing as a profession before the apprenticeship?

Naisha:I honestly never thought about tattooing as a career. My cousin brother started it at that time. I watched him work but never imagined myself doing it. It was while training under Phiban that I realised I’m into it.

SS: Did you have an alternative career choice after your graduation?

Naisha: I didn’t have one. For a while, I thought I would do another Bachelors in Fine Arts. Due to health reasons, that didn’t work out at that time. I found this and fell in love with it.

SS: How has your journey been as Meghalaya’s first woman tattoo artist?

Naisha: It was quite overwhelming initially. My goal is to help and encourage women to step up and follow an unconventional path. That will be a good thing from my side. I hope they can come out of their comfort zones and follow their passion.

SS: Do you think that stereotypes still exist where tattooing as a profession is concerned?

Naisha: Yes. I think there definitely was. Considering that Shillong is still conservative, it wasn’t so easy to tell people that I chose it as my career. Their first reaction is that it’s not really a career choice and that I should consider something else… a government job or a teacher. For a while, it was quite difficult for me. My family supported me and that gave me confidence to listen to my heart. Now, it doesn’t matter what people think. But pre-conceived notions still exist.

SS: 2020 has been quite the year. How has it been for you?

Naisha: It has given me more time to focus on my paintings and other art works. For a while, I couldn’t work like I normally do. Safety is important at the end of the day. When it comes to tattooing, it’s been quite slow. So far, 2020 has been interesting. I have started tattooing now and we take a client a day with the necessary precautions.

SS: What is your process like?

Naisha: Some of my clients already have an idea of what tattoo designs they want. They come up with their own concepts which are unique and interesting. I try to make it collaborative where I ask my clients to give their inputs.

SS: When you decided to pursue tattooing as a profession, how did your family take it?

Naisha: When I decided to learn this art form, I was certain my family would have a problem with it. Considering that tattooing isn’t very conventional in terms of a career choice, and is still considered a taboo. To my surprise, they’ve been very supportive right from the beginning. They have seen my interest in art. I suppose they understood why I would be interested in tattooing.

SS: How has your identity as a Khasi woman shaped your artistic sensibility?

Naisha: The Khasis, unlike most cultures, don’t really have much of its own style of art, apart from textile, music and mythological tales. Also, we don’t have a history of tattoo art.

As a Khasi artist, I am trying to incorporate a lot of these elements into my paintings and tattoo designs. Quite a number of other artists are also trying to do the same. Hopefully, some day we will also have visual art that is significant to our people.

Working in Kolkata, with artists from all over, they each had a style of art that represented their own culture, such as prints and patterns, and these references were easily available to them as these were documented. When clients would ask me to design something that represented my culture, I had to create my own patterns from the literature we have. That said, visual style is still very scarce.

SS: What inspires you as an artist, especially in the context of being from North-East India? Do you think the challenges here are unique for aspiring tattoo artists?

Naisha: North-East India has a history of tattooing. It has been around for centuries and you would find them in Nagaland, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The Art of tattooing is found all over the country and it has also been practiced for centuries. However, in Meghalaya, we don’t have any history of tattoos. It definitely is a challenge for aspiring artists to try and create something that is our own. At the same time, it is also an opportunity for us to be able to create that genuine style.

SS: How was your experience with Calcutta Ink? Can you tell us something about your training?

Naisha: Calcutta Ink gave me the exposure I needed to grow as an artist. I met a lot of artists from all over and each had something different to teach the other.

Working in a city like Kolkata, and the studio being one of the oldest studios there, there was a lot of clientele. This taught me to be able to handle the pressure of having to handle quite a number of clients per day.

SS: What would you say to people who want to get tattoos but are afraid?

Naisha: Its always something amazing when someone chooses to face their fears. Most of the time, when it comes to the fear of getting a tattoo, it’s the fear of the pain. In my opinion, the pain one imagines and the actual pain is highly exaggerated. It is very much bearable especially if it’s a small tattoo. To overcome this fear, I would suggest attempting a small tattoo at first, one that would barely take a few minutes just to understand the pain and then maybe proceed to bigger pieces.

SS: What is your message to people of North East India, and specifically women who want to pursue tattooing as a career?

Naisha: My message to women or anyone who wants to pursue a career in tattooing is that if it is something that you truly want, be prepared for some backlash from a few individuals. But don’t give up on your dreams. Work hard and keep practicing.

SS: Where do you see yourself in say five years? Do you have plans to start your own studios in other parts of the country and world?

Naisha: Currently, I have a private studio but I do hope to someday open studios in other places as well. Travel and work in different places.



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