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Assam inked: A mission to spread Assamese culture through tattoos
The American alternate rock band Linkin Park’s lead singer Chester Bennington once said, “Tattoos are permanent and a lifelong commitment, the same as marriage.” Assam’s Bhagyaraj Baruah goes a notch above with his belief, “why not ink your tradition permanently?”
Baruah, who had been tattooing since 2010 and painting since childhood, has embarked into a journey to make Assamese designs into tattoos at his studio, Exclusive Studio in Panjabari, Guwahati.
“Our rich and deep-rooted culture and tradition, music, art-forms are that makes our identity as an Assamese. It decides who we are and why we are different from the rest of the nation. We should adhere to this uniqueness, even flaunt it. And what could be a better way to this besides having a tattoo embedded on skin like a sigil?” Baruah told The News Mill in a one-to-one interaction in his studio one Sunday afternoon.
Baruah, however, is not the only traditional designer in the Northeast. Naga tattoo artist Moranngam Khaling, popularly known as Mo Naga, has been researching traditional Naga tattoos since many years now.
A creative arts pass out in advanced course from Guwahati Artists Guild, one of the coveted arts centre in Assam, Baruah’s tattooing journey began in 2010 from Chennai where he was studying engineering. Soon, tattooing became a passion and then profession. Though, it’s been seven years of tattooing for Baruah, the idea of making Assamese design tattoos dawned to him in 2015.
“It’s a funny story. I, along with four of my friends once attempted a tattoo circle – where we sit in a circle and get tattooed by the person next to us. At that time, I chose to get a Rhino done on me to represent my heritage and my state. During that time, I realized that a lot of people were stereotyping the art by putting on designs which were primarily downloaded American, Japanese and Chinese designs. Then, I thought, why not make Assamese designs for my customers. At least, they will carry one tattoo which won’t go out of trend,” he said.
Baruah, however, credits his knack for traditional arts to his grandfather Sonit Kunwar Gajen Baruah an eminent artist and a cultural icon of Assam under whose name Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had in January this year announced an award for excellence in arts.
“Though it is very unfortunate that I never met my grandfather but I had the good fortune of indulging in his artwork. Every time I used to visit our ancestral house at Jamuguri in Sivasagar, I used to get inspired by his artworks that filled almost all the walls of the house. Growing up surrounded by his artworks did give me a sub-conscious inspiration towards art as a whole and an urge to remain rooted to our tradition, in particular,” Baruah said.
“So, I started studying about our heritage and arts; started exploring the designs of our traditional ornaments and the sigils and symbols of Ahom kingdom. It took some time to convert those as tattoos. There are different styles of tattooing such as traditional, realism, water colour, tribal new school etc. I had to categorise which Assamese design looks good in which style of tattooing. When done, I started making those tattoos, and those were an instant hit,” Baruah said.
When asked about future plans, Baruah said, “I plan to continue my practice in the field of tattoos and associate arts. I am currently training a talented batch of artists in tattooing. I would like to promote the tattoo industry as a whole in Assam and help a few individuals to become self-employed by teaching them the art. Also, I continuously strive to improve my own skills by learning something new with each art that I make. It’s one of my dream that people from outside come here to get an Assamese tattoo.”