Lockdown Diary of a Tattoo Artist

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Chirasmrita Devi

The nationwide lockdown due to the outbreak of the global pandemic COVID19 has casted away people from their normal lives. Renowned tattoo artist Mo-ranngam Khaling, popularly known as Mo Naga, too has put a halt on his ‘inking’ sessions. Mo Naga is one of the only three artists featured in ‘The World Atlas of Tattoo’ (Yale University Press), which chronicles the work of one hundred leading global tattooists. However, an artist always finds a way to explore his creativity.

Mo, who runs his tattoo studio ‘Godna Gram’ in Delhi, reached his native village in Manipur just a day before the first phase of nationwide lockdown was announced. He was home quarantined for two weeks. During this quarantine period, Mo curated some interesting and useful ideas to spend this time away from his needle- Backyard farming and mask making. Mo had always been interested in farming and gardening. “I have done some balcony gardening with the available resources in my apartment in Delhi as well”, said Mo who has been promoting Naga tattoo art and culture through his work since a long time. The lockdown period provided him with the opportunity to come closer to his passion of farming which is a great option to practice social distancing and become more self-sufficient. “Seeing the condition of people stranded in different parts of the country, I feel extremely grateful to have reached my home before the lockdown. I keep wondering what would have happened if I had got stuck in Delhi or even in a hotel room in Guwahati. Hence, I wanted to utilize this time that I have been gifted with,” said a grateful Mo.

The tattoo artist used the backyard space of his house as the canvass for his ‘green art’. In the gardening plot, he started growing a wide range of vegetables and fruits including cucumber, pumpkin, bitter gourd, tomatoes, beans, corn, lettuce, cabbage, brinjal, Spring onions, cape berries, bhoot jolokia/ king chilli, regular green chillies, lady finger, passion fruits, peach etc. Along with vegetables and fruits, Mo tried his hands in backyard poultry farming as well. “My neighbour purchased 10 chicks to rear. Due to the lockdown there was not enough to feed the chicks. I came to know that she was worried as she wouldn’t be able to take care of them. So, I adopted 5 of the chicks!”, says Mo who later constructed a chicken coop with bamboo and metal wire for the chicks. He had been feeding the vegetable leftovers to the chicks which was a healthy option for them. Also, it generates less wastage. Mo informed that the idea of backyard farming was not pandemic-induced. He had been planning his ‘homecoming’ since one year to work on his dream project which is to build a studio in his village to practice his tattoo art amid a natural setting.He wants to build a space where art, nature and culture would all come together. He wants to practice his art somewhere close to nature rather than in a concrete jungle surrounded by walls. During the lockdown period, Mo has not been handling any of his design or international projects. Instead, he wanted to do something for the people of his state. Considering the current situation, one of the best ways to help people is to provide face masks. Hence, Mo who has been associated with the traditional textile and handloom of Manipur, connected with some local NGOs. He worked with some weavers and taught them to make face masks which were later supplied to people in need.

As he wanted to make people aware about the importance of self- sufficiency or ‘atmanirbharta’ and time utilization, Mo started sharing his lockdown projects on his social media handles. “This global crisis has taught us that, how important it is to be self-sustained and self- sufficient. During the first phase of lockdown people were short of vegetables in the cities. Because, in cities we are all dependent on the market for essential supplies. So, when the markets are closed, we are all doomed”, said a concerned Mo. “Hence, I believe that we all should learn to grow our own food at least on a basic level, so that we do not starve in a crisis situation like this”, added Mo.

Mo is also of the view that this lockdown period is a great opportunity for us to be grateful and learn to respect the small things in life. “Not all of us are lucky enough to be at home with our loved ones. Many are stranded, away from their families. Many have come under the clutches of this virus. We should be grateful for what we have and learn to respect the efforts of our loved ones which are often ignored.” He believes that there’s enough negativity in the world outside and we have to fight it with the kindness and positivity that resides inside us. According to him, the best way to bring about that positivity is to be grateful and help others, so that we all can unite and fight the crisis together. It can be said that Mo Naga is a cultural ambassador for the North East and India as a whole in his own right. He is an independent Researcher and Revivalist of traditional art and design culture of India with major focus on North East India. He was the first tattoo artist in India to be invited to demonstrate traditional tattooing and conducted a workshop to highlight the importance of the study and preservation of Naga Tattoos in the National Museum Kolkata in 2015. He was also the first Indian artist whose work was invited and featured in the path breaking book called ‘Tattoo Masters Flash Collection’, by Edition Ruess publication of Germany. In the book he represented Indian tattoo art (Naga Style) alongside the work of world legends like Horiyoshi III of Japan and Ed Hardy of USA and many others.

BBC World, too followed Mo Naga and documented his effort to revitalize the fading Naga Tattoos. An exclusive episode in the BBC World PopUp was telecasted. On asking about his tattoo-creating process he said, “There is no plot for a perfect tattoo as a ‘perfect’ tattoo never exists. There are times when people even regret their tattoos. So, to create a good tattoo an artist should be willing enough to devote some time with the client. Moreover, an inker expects a client to come with lots of trust, willingness and respect for the culture. There will be exchange of ideas to which the artist will give his/her artistic touch. And voila! You have a story ready to be inked. It’s a ‘converse and create’ process.”

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