Ink and Loathing at the Tattoo Expoby Max Barashenkov / Images by Luke Daniel / 03.02.2012
The cougars descend on me with practiced determination. Two of them. Mid-thirties, out of shape and tramp-stamped. Recent divorcees looking for a walk on the wilder and younger side, I peg them.
“Are you a tattoo artist?” one of them asks, the phrase ‘tattoo artist’ imbued with fascination, her eyes with hunger. I haven’t read the handbook on picking up boys at Southern Ink Xposure, but I’m sure that line is on top of the ‘Try This’ list. I disappoint them somewhat, but they bounce back.
“Oooh, I used to be in the media too,” giggles the other one. Somehow that propels us into intimate friendship and they begin telling me the deeper meanings behind their tattoos. Behind their fucking tramp-stamps. The one’s butterfly is, surprisingly, a symbol of metamorphosis. The other’s neo-tribal pattern involves a harrowing story of Matric Rage and a boy. The de-cocooned beauty then strokes her left flank seductively and asks, “I want something done here. Do you know if it will hurt?”
“Worse than you can imagine,” I lie with the conviction of a man whose skin never tasted ink. “My girlfriend compared it to the emotional pain of losing our first born.” They choke and, amid their splutters, I escape.
The 4th annual Cape Town International Tattoo Convention attracted a peculiar cast of characters. Skin artists and rock ‘n roll types mostly. I wonder where the hip hop kids are at, where the electro crowd is hiding? Surely they like ink too? Yet, as I do the rounds of the BMW pavilion, I can’t shake the feeling of being at a rockabilly show. The set-up, the stalls, their strategic arrangement are all top-notch, world-class stuff. Security, bar staff, technicians, they all know their jobs, filling the convention with an air of precision. The artists have adequate space and there is no real shortage of talent on display, both local and international. I put a tick in the organization box and get the fuck out, back to the beer garden.
Earlier, having just arrived, I quickly sussed out the distinct lack of free shit and decided that the real story, if there was one here, hid around the watering hole. The cougars came along shortly, to prove me sort of right. The problem with Southern Ink Xposure is that, unless you are in the tattoo business or are getting inked that day, there is not a hell of a lot to do. You can do two laps of the pavilion, page through portfolios, watch someone grimacing with pain as they get work done, rifle through a couple of near-tattoo-culture stalls selling t-shirts and George R. R. Martin novels, and you’ll be done. For a hundred rand entrance fee, it’s not much. Nothing entices, nothing grabs you by the balls and screams – “I’m interesting, engage with me!” I wasn’t expecting a show, but even first year marketing students know that to sell a product, you have to sell the whole package. At Southern Ink, the product was there – creative and richly coloured – but the package, well… there was booze. Some burlesque dancers make a stab at entertainment, but I’ll be kind and end my mention of them here.
The people though! Oh, sweet glory. An answered to my every anthropological perversion. There is the guy wearing a black wife-beater, frame-less glasses and a cap with the lid to the side. He’s drenched in ink, legs, arms, shoulders and neck. The stuff creeps up onto his face. That look of superiority is priceless. I give him the Most-Inked-Douchebag award and turn my eyes to the timid trio at the next table. He must be just over 18, his dual lip-rings and acne betraying his youthful lust for shit fashion. The girls, they didn’t get the dispatch on emo being dead, but have figured out that excessive black hides their teen lumpiness. From the way he touches their arms and strokes the dreams of beard on his face, it’s safe to conclude that he hopes to fuck them both tonight. They’re hoping to get picked up by something older and better. Isn’t there some saying about love being sealed with ink? Why are all these people here? Do they find pleasure in watching other people get tattooed? For hours? Or were they all drawn here by the same false illusion that some colour on their skin unifies them, makes them, somehow, part of an art?
Others are here too. Pretty faces, distinguished gents. Friendly and talented graphic artists with their friendly girlfriends. Good-natured photographers with their rum-toting girlfriends. Cape Town bloggers with girlfriends I don’t know. A contingent from Bloem that talks too loud and drinks too quick. It’s fun outside, there is conversation, there is laughter, but then again, this could be anywhere. The good vibe owes nothing to tattoo culture.
*All images © Luke Daniel