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Canvas /kanvəs/ :  a piece of cloth backed or framed as a surface for a painting

Tattooing in today’s world has moved far beyond rebellious attitudes. The culture it started off from is slowly regaining footing with the rise in oral histories and research that tell us body ink goes deeper than the surface that the world at large is currently aware of.

Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017
Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017

This rise in understanding why people get inked has both led to more people getting inked, as well as more people accepting body art as an art form like any other.

Being a canvas to a tattoo artist is now a growing trend amongst tattoo collectors and enthusiasts as the country constantly hosts tattoo festivals in different states every two months. But, what drives a person to become a canvas? When there is no choice for placement and no choice of design, being a canvas means a huge amount of trust on the artists working on you for the day.

Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017
Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017

Is it the cheaper rate at which they get it done? Is it something spiritual?

For Rahul, among the 13 tattoos on his body, the last two have been those he has been a canvas for. “I’ve been associated with the tattoo fraternity in different ways, as an admirer, who understands what tattoos are, the importance of these symbols. I’ve always been fascinated. It is a very unconventional art form, and there are very few who understand what it actually is and what it signifies and what it is supposed to mean to a person’s identity.”

Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017
Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017

The tattoo wasn’t revealed to Rahul earlier, but turned out to be something very similar to what he was thinking of getting as part of getting his entire body tattooed in different themes signifying who he is. “A pure case of luck, it happened to be something I liked!” he says, while exclaiming about his meeting with his tattoo artist. He talks about a certain pull he felt towards the tattoo and the artist, which made him go for it. “The reason was just a pull. Yes, a certain pull. When you’re connected to your body art, every piece gets connected to you. Enrico Ferrari, in the Black book of tattoos writes that every symbol you get tattooed on yourself  gets connected to your body. Some tattoos support you and some back fire on you. I got this inked after a break of 3 years and I was still working on some other concepts and designs and suddenly this happened. It was a fun experience.”

Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017
Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017

Riddhima , who has 9 pieces of art on her body, recently got her ninth piece done as a canvas. She was put in touch with her artist through a friend and the trust she had on her friend added to why she went ahead with the final piece. ‘I didn’t go in looking for a piece in such a private location, but while I was looking through the designs , I happened to really like how it looked. All my other tattoos are in safer places.’

The trust canvases have on the artist matters as well, especially when pieces are big and in some cases, when artists are unfamiliar to the person getting the tattoo done.

Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Pune Tattoo Festival 2016
Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Pune Tattoo Festival 2016

Does the fact that canvas tattoos in some cases are free make any difference to the decisions taken by the people who agree to be canvases? “It’s just a lure,” says Riddhima. “The fact that it was free made it even more exciting, but the fact that I love tattoos was also a big reason. But after I got it done, I’m sure I would have paid for this design as well. It’s a contributing factor but not the primary factor.”

Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Pune Tattoo Festival 2016
Image for representational use. Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Pune Tattoo Festival 2016

It’s probably safe to say that people who agree to be canvases are not people who are getting their first tattoo done. These people are definitely collectors, those who don’t mind an occasional dive, and people who understand symbols and tattooing deeper than most. To agree, and to trust an artist so much so as to get something permanently inked on their body is a beautiful and large commitment, making those who agree to be canvases some of the most coveted people to experiment on, for artists.

Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017
Photo by Tanya Agarwal at Goa Tattoo Festival 2017
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