CHENNAI: Tattoos in India represent a changing trend towards self-expression according to Sanjukta Basu, a New Dehli-based photographer and writer, who is travelling across Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore for a feminist photo series focused on tattooed women that aims to capture women from all walks of life, sharing stories on their skin.
“In India, women have never really been allowed to express themselves,” Sanjukta says. “Whether it was authors who wrote novels or painters who created art, it was always the case of men representing women. Women would not represent themselves because there were no other female artists in the history of creating.” This type of ghost writing, also common in the west, allowed women to share their art without ostracization. However, things are changing as many women are representing themselves in more than just self-attribution.
The subjects of Sanjukta’s photo series are strong women, but more specifically, they are tattooed. “I want to sort of highlight their identity and how it is presented through their tattoo,” she explains. “Such as the significance of the tattoo, and the level of confidence a woman will have. A tattoo is a strong impression of her identity.”
She explains that though it has been an old tradition for Indian women to have small tattoos, those have nothing to do with self-expression. “But a woman choosing to get a tattoo as an identity is definitely something that is not encouraged,” .
As someone who travels frequently, Sanjukta’s own tattoos and piercings do not go unnoticed, but the attention is mostly positive. “People often ask me what it means. Sometimes it even becomes a conversation starter,” she says. She added that tattoos have become slightly more accepted in recent years due to the younger generation embracing them along with the growing exposure to western culture. Since she began her journey, she has met three to four women in Kolkata for the photo series , and five to six women have reached out from Chennai.
In all of her photos, Sanjukta tries to capture women in non-stereotypical ways. “I try to fill the gender gap in photography,” she avers. “Usually a photographer might ogle a woman and try to capture their exotic beauty or maybe her vulnerabilities, but I want to capture them in ways they haven’t been photographed before.”
As part of a separate project where she travels alone across India, she has photographed many women who would otherwise go unnoticed. “I am doing an ongoing series going to rural areas and try to capture portraits of women who have a lot of wisdom in their eyes. Their bright eyes show they are empowered.”
The photo documentary series, called ‘Project Solo Woman Budget Travel’, aims to challenge the perception of the dangers women face while travelling alone in India.
Sanjukta is in Chennai till July 23. Those interested in posing can visit her FB page, Sanjukta Basu Photography