'The days of having clients every day are over': Tattoo artists make their mark again

28 June 2020 - 00:00
Tattoo artist Mason Murdy completes a piece on Celine Grant that was started five days before the nationwide lockdown began. Picture: Sandile Ndlovu
Tattoo artist Mason Murdy completes a piece on Celine Grant that was started five days before the nationwide lockdown began. Picture: Sandile Ndlovu
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

SA's tattoo industry is slowly clawing its way back after a crippling three-month lockdown.

With the government's relaxing of restrictions to allow the personal beauty industry to reopen, some tattoo artists are getting back down to work while others are unsure about the future of their businesses.

Tattooers Unite SA - a lobby group that petitioned the government to allow parlours to open before the regulations were eased - has resorted to fundraising to help struggling tattoo artists who are not able to reopen their businesses.

The organisation's Derek Baker, a Cape Town tattooo artist, said a number of parlours would not be able to resume business because of debt.

"The lockdown killed us because in our industry we make money today to feed us, so three months of lockdown was a killer. So a few of the studios came together to help the artists who work for us, because they are the ones who suffered the most," he said.

"The lockdown is going to impact us for a long time. The days of having clients every day are over."

Baker said he knew of about 20 tattoo businesses around the country that were out of business. And he believes it will take time for clients to return to parlours because of their fears over Covid-19.

Durban tattoo artist Mason Murdy started putting ink on skin this week for the first time in three months.

"I went from being booked up for a handful of months to no clients whatsoever. For the last few days I have been going through my e-mails and messages, just reconnecting with all my clients. I have received quite a decent amount of bookings."

To stay afloat financially during the lockdown Murdy did commissioned paintings and drawings.

Celine Grant was among his first clients to return this week, so he could finish a geometric tattoo on her arm.

"I am so excited to show people the finished product," she said.

On getting back to work, Murdy said he had always adhered to strict levels of hygiene, "so from that perspective it wasn't too different, except I had to wear a mask, do a temperature check and make sure they [clients] sanitise their hands.

"If you were not already doing all of this then you shouldn't be tattooing. Everything I will touch while tattooing I wrap, so that there is no cross-contamination."

Johannesburg-based tattoo artist Ethel Laka has experienced an influx of clients since opening this week.

During lockdown she had clients who paid for their tattoos in advance or put down a deposit.

"For me, nothing has changed in terms of safety measures because wearing a safety mask has always been standard. We were already using 70% alcohol-based cleaners because body fats and enzymes end up on the chair.

"All of this was standard in every professional tattoo parlour," she said.

"During lockdown you think about the terms essential and nonessential. That was highly disturbing because you started to think, are we not essential, is art not an essential in a society?"

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