Tattoos: A nation under the ink

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Heavyweight champion of the world, Anthony Joshua with a tattoo of Africa

Tattoos are on the rise in Nigeria as young people find ways to express themselves.

There used to be a time that I only saw a person with tattoos in an American rap video.

Nowadays, I don't have to put on the TV or go on YouTube to see some fancy ink work on human skin. Everywhere you go these days, you are bound to see at least someone with a tattoo.

From hardly any presence in the 90s, we are surrounded by a lot of tattoos these days. It's mainstream right now. You can find any tattoo you are looking for, from wrist tattoos to thigh tattoos, on the streets.

 

Why has this generation of Nigerians embraced this form of body art? Tattoo culture shouldn't be seen from an isolated perspective but rather from a whole.

With the turn of the millennium, Nigerian youths started embracing a more counter-cultural lifestyle. Public smoking of cannabis, body piercing and tattoos are just some of them.

 

We can blame the global influence of rap music, Internet penetration or a generation of young Nigerians tired of living the old way and rebelling from the conservative ways of the colonials and post independent generation. They just want to express their individuality rather than be lumped in a communal way of thinking and of life. 

 

It could be a combination of these three factors set against the backdrop of a dysfunctional society that does not pay mind to young people and their future.

 

ALSO READ: Cover up your ink at the work place

In other words, it is "self-expression" in a stifling society according to Demehin Temitope who runs Shades Tattoos. Having started his business in 2009, Temitope tells Pulse that sometimes he has 20-10 customers per week and on bad weeks just two. The minimum price he charges for a tattoo design is N10,000. The price varies according to the amount of time used in drawing the tattoo.

 

Dami who has four tattoos also gives the same reason. "Tattoos are big in Nigeria now because of the urban movement, urban culture, body art is an integral part of it of course," he tells Pulse.

"Some are using as a medium to express their individuality. A large chunk of them are going with the crowd because they get tattoos that have no meaning. To look good and feel like they are in" he further says. 

The copycat syndrome might have something to do with music stars getting a bunch of tattoos.  Temitope has done tattoos for stars such as Burna Boy, Davido, Reekado Banks, Solid Star, Rayce, Leriq, B-Red, Skiibii, YCee and others.  

 

17 years after the millennium, these stars are part of the young Nigerians who are covered in ink like never before. They show how much these artworks have penetrated into the canvas of youth culture. Some might look at these famous cool kids and think getting a tattoo is a way of getting into the exclusive club.

Before you get to the end of this article, it is highly likely that a few more young Nigerians will get a tattoo for whatever reason.

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Toun, 23, tells Pulse she is considering getting a tattoo. "I'm thinking of getting one, my name probably. I'm going to tattoo my name in between my fingers."

When there is a rise, there is also a resistance. Not everyone thinks tattoos are cool. Christians are quick to point to Leviticus 19:28 "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD" as their main point in the debate against tattoos.

 

"To a large extent it influences the perception people have about you," says Dami. There are Nigerian parents who think their daughter or son have sold their souls to the devil because they have a tattoo.

Demehin Temitope counters this Christian point. "Ungodliness and immorality are inward. They have nothing to do with the art of tattoo" states the tattoo artist who has only one tattoo. You might find that a bit strange but according to him it is a wrong notion that a tattoo artist must be covered in ink.

 

Apart from the religious angle, there are Nigerians who believe tattoos don't show any sign of responsibility. They think any decent man or woman shouldn't have tattoos.

 

Dami tells the story of an ex-girlfriend who questioned his ambition as a man because he has tattoos. "It was a day my friend was doing her introduction. She asked me 'is this what my mates are doing', referring to my tattoos. She said this because I hadn't proposed to her."

Dami got his first tattoo in 2011 after the death of his father. His father's name is written on his back. He got this tattoo in Canada. The other three tattoos ('love', 'grace so amazing', and 'hope') were all done in Nigeria.

The interesting thing about this view is that before the colonial and post-independence generation that adopted conservatism as a way of life, tattoos were a part of our culture.

 

I remember seeing green tattoos on my grand aunt's wrists and arms as a child. Body art including tribal marks were used by Yoruba people to indicate the tribe a person comes from. With the advent of colonialism, the post-independence generation abandoned tattoos until now the millennial generation came along.

 

Wherever you stand, tattoos are likely not to go anywhere at least in this generation. Just a week ago, rap star Olamide got a guitar head tattoo on his right leg, the year before he got the bust of Oduduwa on his left.

The ink never runs out.



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