We caught up with Swasthik Iyengar (@gung_ma) an Indian Tattooist based in Brisbane, Australia. After spending her childhood in India watching her Grandmother create traditional Stick and Poke tattoos she found her own style of tattooing in the years to come.
Where does your style of tattooing originate from and when did you develop your take on it?
I would say that my style of tattooing takes inspiration from my Indian/ Hindu heritage/culture. I practice techniques in American traditional tattooing and Tribal tattooing – and have created my own work from there. I still have a lot to learn and so I am always trying find ways to develop my style, I am not quite there yet. I developed my take on this from my culture. I was born and raised in India till I was 10. Many of my family members in India and Nepal were/are artists, and my grandmother did stick and poke tattoos in South India. So art and tattoos is something that I have always been around and fell in love with.
How old were you when you decided you wanted to become a tattoo artist and did your family support you in doing so?
I grew up around ladies in India that did tattoos, and as life progressed, even though I took an academic route, tattooing was something that I never forgot about, and I was constantly drawn to. I started getting tattooed at 20 and always contemplated becoming a tattooer but I didn’t feel quite ready then, and then in some wonderful way, I was brought back to tattooing. This time to commence the journey to become a tattooer. I loved everything about it, the permanency, the body transformation, the wonderful stories shared with clients, the energy exchange, the healing, and the happiness. Yes, my family supported anything I did that would make me happy.
How do you find the tattoo scene in Brisbane?
There is a wonderful array of work produced by so many talented tattoo artists in Brisbane. To be honest, I am very introverted, so I don’t know so much about what’s out there since I spend most of my time painting and meditating on the craft and art on my own. The people I work with are awesome, they have always helped and inspired me. I learn a lot from my work colleagues.
Has travel influenced your artwork at all?
Yes absolutely. I lived in the UK and Europe for almost 6 years when I was in my 20’s, and the UK is where I first started to get tattooed, at the great shop called – Into You Tattoo. Not only that, before the pandemic, I was and continue to do so – go back home to India and Nepal, to pay respect to my elders, reconnect with the land and be inspired by new art forms as well as new ways of tattooing through connecting with my family and friends.
Do you have an interesting tale to tell from a tattooing experience?
Hmmm interesting tales…. To me, the most beautiful experience I have had is to the memories of watching my grandmother tattoo, sitting next to her and watching her use her sacred tools to mark beautiful people whilst chanting powerful mantras. But I believe that tattooing is so special and in fact, all experiences are beautiful. Whether coming from the perspective of someone who gets tattooed and shares a moment with the tattooers or coming from the perspective of someone who does tattoos and can share stories with the clients, all experiences and tales are lovely and a moment in time that doesn’t really get forgotten.