Culture Shock: Tattoo Edition


We love tattoos! It’s a huge trend these days and seen as a form of self-expression in Western society. However, there exists a stereotype in the South Asian community which portrays inked women as uncultured and/or over-sexualized.

Many South Asian women who have or plan on getting tattoos often wonder: “Will the tattoo show if I wear a saree?” “Will I be judged by relatives at functions?” This fear of judgement from the South Asian community often hinders the choice of where we get tattoos, and consequently how comfortable we are when wearing cultural attire. Our inspiration for this project comes from these same fears that we’ve faced before, during and after getting our tattoos.

This year’s edition of Culture Shock aims to redefine these stereotypes and empower South Asian women to overcome these fears and live their truth.

Elephant Trails Studio

Elephant Trails Studio

The art of tattooing is a beautiful cultural practice with roots in South Asian culture. It is an ancient custom dating as far back as 1000 BC in South Asia. Many South Asian cultures have long regarded tattoos as essential aids in life and as gateways into the afterlife.

People used tattoos for many purposes such as protection from evil, to mark their tribes and castes, to perform spiritual ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. The skin was their canvas, and sticks and other pointy objects were their paintbrushes.

In the early 20th century, it was women who were the predominant gender to get tattoos in South Asia. Popular tattoo designs included: a black dot on the forehead or chin to cast away the evil eye, a lotus for the goddess of wealth, and designs derived from “kolam” patterns.

Elephant Trails Studio

Elephant Trails Studio

Tattoos may have evolved into a popular trend in Western society today, but it has deep roots in not only South Asian cultures, but many native cultures and communities all over the world. Let us reclaim our roots and redefine the way we perceive inked women rocking cultural clothes!

Photography: Elephant Trails Studio
Wardrobe: Your Sarista
Jewelry and accessories: Swasam
Makeup and hair: Makeup By Raman

Copyright © Elephant Trails Studio 2016. All right reserved.

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Nila Sivatheesan

Nila Sivatheesan

Nila is a passionate environmentalist, and fashion & portrait photographer. She enjoys creating visual stories and portraying her subjects in an inspiring light. Follow her on Instagram: @PhotoByNila

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4 thoughts on “Culture Shock: Tattoo Edition

  1. Both my grandmother and my grandfather had tattoos. Not sure what it was about, but it was in Tamil.

  2. Ffs if you want a tattoo get one and embrace yourself for wanting to express body art. That is your chance. Don’t live for the judgemental aunties and uncles who thrive on gossip and have a judgmental perception of you just because you are inked. In order to escape the dictatorship nature of our culture our generation must embrace open minded thoughts and stuff what others think about us afterall we live for ourselves not others. If like to see my children grow up as second generation British Tamils where this isn’t even an issue worth mentioning!

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