Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Nepal tattoo

Rise Nepal.

On the 25th of April, I took the bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu for the 5th Nepal International Tattoo convention. Since the first one, I only missed one convention. In the tattoo world since a couple decades, I am not a convention type person. I only went to the Paris Mondial du tatouage a couple years ago, and to the Kathmandu conventions. I'd rather be in the privacy of the shops.
I remember the first one years ago. Thanks to Mohan Gurung's team, it was a week and more of nepale artist meeting each other for the first time. As tattoo is ancient tradition in Nepal, the modern tattoo world is just discovering it. Each year the convention becomes a meeting of old time freaks, long time travelers and of course plenty of tattoo artists. They meet in the Yak and Yeti hotel, a superb 5 star hotel on King's Road, filled with old photos of Once upon a time in Nepal. If the convention is filled with many buddhas, shivas, ganesh and other popular god figures, the modern touch shows it's way. People like Alchemink and Kenji Alucky with Black Ink Power represent amongst others the modern and ancient tattoo scene mixed together in the best of ways. The london based KaliTattoo studio has been present every year, with the scarcification and silicones implants. Many names pass through every year, and it is always a time to meet new friends and to enjoy some time with those that came from far to visit for the occasion. April is freak time in the city of a 1000 gods, Kathmandu, and this year sure was a special one...

 Traditional asian motif
"All magicians pass by paris, and all mystics by Kathmandu" source unknown.
April is also season tourist in Nepal, it's the time to make money before the rainy season comes. As usual, at this time of the year, the tourist area, Thamel, was filled with trekking tourists and freaks from around the world. Not only is there the Tattoo convention, but there is also the Universal Religion gathering, the biggest and oldest trance festival in Nepal. Like birds, the freaks migrate from Goa to come up in the mountains, to get away from the burning sun of the south. A day before the begining of the Universal Religion, the festival was cancelled. The freaks were freaking out, no festival due to corruption stories. But things are well done, the festival setting got totally destroyed, they would have all died if the festival went on. The 25th was  the second day of the tattoo convention. It was a morning as usual, people were getting tattooed in the Yak and Yeti when the shake happened. People ran out of the building, with unfinished tattoos and ink running on their bodies. This will make for a memorable tattoo. A story goes that a woman got a line on her arm, the line being the tattoo artist hand loosing control, a line marking this day. The doors closed, the city closed. It would be 2 days before a shop would dare opening it's doors as the earth kept on shaking, and still does 10 days laters.
I was going to go at the convention in the afternoon, but in the morning I was having a tea with my friend in Thamel, when the roof in front of us fell and crushed the car that was passing. It's 2072 local calendar, the earth shook on top of the world.


In a few seconds, Nepal changed for ever. It's about 10 days after the shake, and Nepal is just waking up from the nightmare to see the destruction of what was Nepal. Kathmandu will losse half of it's buildings, many of the ones still standing being often too cracked to be lived in again, the city is deserted. What made Kathmandu what it is, it is the Art, much being part of UNESCO world heritage. Each fallen temple carried with it a tradition old of a few thousand years. Nepal being the only country in Asia where we can see the synthesis between buddhist and hindu cultures. The temples were a treasure for the heart and the soul, all turned in ruins in a few seconds. It is a part of their soul and heart that the nepale lost with this quake. As the country was just rising up from a civil war that threw out the last Hindu monarchy of the world, Nepal has to start  all over again. But it's not the sad story I would like to share here. It's the Art story I would like to write about. It is the story of the buddhist and hindu cultures that created such amazing art, with it's newari metal and wood works (the original people of the Kathmandu valley), it's the temples, the red bricks, the festivals that have to be remembered to be reborn out of the ruins. The Art is one of the reason people come to Kathmandu, the beauty of the city is beyond words, as the temples carry a message to each that enter them.

A bamboo garuda
A couple days after the quake, I walked out of the camp where I stayed 4 days, with Baba Bikas from Funky Buddha tattoo and nepale friends. I was walking around Thamel, looking for an open shop. The streets were still empty, shops all closed. If Thamel was not too affected by the shake, to get to it, I had to cross a few piles of bricks that used to be houses. The air silent, full of fear from the ongoing shakes. The scene was straight out of a science fiction, with freaks sitting in the streets, full of tattoos, faces and heads all inked up. A vision straight out of Mad Max, except that this was real. Many tattoo artists have been coming to the convention for years. Many stayed in what they call their second home, and went to help where they could. Slowly, after a week, trucks started to organize; loaded with goods, tents, blankets, kilos of food, direction the devestated villages, in which many, not one house left standing. Those that stayed went in villages to help best they could. As Kathmandu is still deserted, some came to Pokhara and work in local tattoo shops. All do what they can with what they have, simply because when faced with such destruction and loss, the mind stops, the art takes over, and the Art takes the forms it has to. Painting, writing, carrying kilos of rice and blankets, building toilets and setting up camps, all becomes art.
Yak tak bamboo, puja before work
Nepal will take a long time to recover from this shake, a long time, it will take nepal to heal from such a trauma. I hope that next year, the convention will bring that many more people. Nepal is rich in art, and the tattoo artist get fed with life time memories when they climb up here. In the mountains, the women walk with many marks on their faces, usually for medical reasons. "the tattoo fix my head when it hurts" tells me a woman one day, in one of my treks in the mountains.
The tharu women are full tattooed, head to toes, with tribal symbols of life, birth and death, kitchen tools, but also trees, rivers, and of course mountains. Tharu is a plain area, they are the only tribe not affected by the many mosquito bites that carry deseases. The ashes (anti bacterial properties) mixed with the goat milk, protects them from malaria. The new generation is loosing the art: " we don' do this anymore" told me a teenage girl, "it's for the old ones". The newaris like to tattoo their names. "Tattoo is what we take with us after death" explains a man. Tattoo in Nepal takes as many forms as there are gods and tribes. Nepales love tattoos, and they usually pick god figures, mantras and family portraits. Tourists usually get memories of their nepale journey, the buddha eye and the Om mane Padme Om, the mantra of the compassion buddha being some of the favorite.
Bairhav back, protector god of nepal
In the after mess, the few ones that stayed here do what they have to. With the Funky Buddha Tattoo team, we created Funky Buddha Hands. Please feel free to share, and to donate to our team, or to another team that does good work on the land. We distribute on local level, as this country is where we live, work and love. I have been putting pics and text for years about life here, 8 years already since I climbed the mountains. As the tattoo convention got closed due to events, it is a bit of Art that I would like to share, so that people keep on coming to this tantric land. Shiva's land is not for the fluffy ones, it's for the strong and the compassionate, it is where a Buddha was born, once upon a time. The full power tattoo community felt naturally at home here, in the midst of such intense beauty and the art that took them straight to their own heart. Nepalese like to say they are "mutu manche", men of the heart. The heart of Nepal is broken and needs much healing to rebuild the country. We hope that the art and tattoo community will use this opportunity to help rebuild this land, full of art and ancient legends. So when things comb down a bit, we hope that you come for a visit, to study the old patterns and rich symbolic language of the statues, thangkas and wood carvings. Most of all, art shares our common story, and tattoo is the most ancient language for it...keep it alive and full power!

Some photos by tattoo artist Kevinos Padre, who was at the convention during the quake, with Ananda tattoo.
Thanks for sharing. Om shanti Om as we say here. Peace and art always:)


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