Tattoos are becoming a usual thing in Kazakh life – it is hard to surprise anyone with the body parts one may choose to ink. Although the industry is still new in the state, the art form is winning the hearts of Kazakh youth.
Young and talented tattoo artists from Astana and Almaty recently shared their experiences, views, plans and opinions on the country’s ink future with EdgeKz.
Tattoo Skull Studio opened in October in the centre of the capital. Founded by artists Ruslan Batyrbayev and Mikhail Kogut, the studio claims to be Astana’s unique place to get your body inked.
The artists come from different Kazakh cities – Karaganda and Uralsk, respectively, and had encounters in their hometowns before deciding to run their own business.
Batyrbayev, who practiced law for six years, became interested in the art in 2011 when he saw a girl with a coloured tattoo. Later, he attempted to make tattoos by himself; although he did not have any special professional art education, but had been drawing since he was three. Batyrbayev advanced to professional tattooing in 2012 after returning from the Novossibirsk tattoo festival in Russia, which according to him “opened his eyes.” It was also the time when he got his first ink and now has around 10 percent of his body covered with different drawings.
Kogut’s fascination with tattoos began in the army. After returning home, he decided to try the art of professional tattooing and ordered special equipment. Although he is a graduate of college and art school, Kogut realized he needed to improve his skills with additional study. He later moved to Uralsk, where he became an artist at one of the local studios in 2012.
Ruslan Apridonidze, 22, is an artist at the studio. After getting his two first tattoos, he thought he could attempt the art form. He is also a graduate of the art school and has been involved in the industry since 2014.
Tattoo Skull has three additional artists who recently started their careers. Batyrbayev, Kogut and Apridonidze help them master their skills.
Each person works in a different style which they choose according to what they like. Batyrbayev loves realistic freehand tattoos and Kogut enjoys working with photos, sometimes making a collage from several pictures. Apridonidze added realism is the closest style to him as well, but he is still searching for his own design.
The artists noted there is a moment one reaches in conversation with tattooed people, the rules of courtesy in some way. As they say, it is somewhat unethical to ask people the meaning of their tattoos.
“If we see a beautiful tattoo, the maximum what we say is that it is great and we can ask who made it and how long it took,” they said.
“I like to get tattoos from experienced artists from whom I can learn something. It is not the same when you look how they do it on the other person. When you get a tattoo on yourself, you can feel the process,” added Batyrbayev.
When asked why people get tattoos, the team answered that every person has a different reason.
“If there are 16 million people, there is the same amount of the reasons,” they said.
“First of all, it is about self-realisation; a tattoo changes not only the appearance of the person, it changes his inner side. A tattoo makes you believe in it, in its magic. It is something unchangeable, you wake up with it every day. With time it becomes part of the body, as a little finger for example,” said Batyrbayev.
The founders say they want to promote tattoos as a form of art, not just symbols or drawings on the body, and plan to organise tattoo festivals in Kazakhstan. While working, they try to help each other, improve together and complement one another’s work.
The studio also offers “guest spots,” when top tattoo artists from other countries are invited for clients to have their work done by the best in the industry. The shop provides visitors with all the necessary equipment, inks and materials. In the future, the studio plans to invite artists from far away countries.
Mariya Vaiman, a 23-year-old tattoo artist from Almaty, is the founder of Flying Lotus. She started her career six years ago.
“Since my 14th birthday I have dreamed about tattooing, so I went to the art school to take individual lessons for classical drawing,” she said.
Vaiman, who also has degrees in philology and psychology, began her career working with professionals in different studios. Later, she decided not to depend on anyone else and run her own studio, where she could be herself with her own style and teaching. Her shop now has three additional artists and a piercer.
“My studio is my home, my guys are my family. My tattoo studio is called Flying Lotus because of my special vision of life. I think that we are spiritual beings and tattoo art is the most ancient art on the planet. We are like shamans; a tattoo artist goes deep inside, not only on the skin, but also into the soul. So I’m straight edge; it means I don’t drink alcohol or smoke, don’t wear, exploit or eat animals. All of my time I spend for progress in tattooing and traveling,” she said.
Every master in Flying Lotus has his style of making and designing tattoos. Vaiman calls herself a realist, but likes black and grey style, old school and Japanese tattoos.
“Realism is one of my favourites; it is one of the most complicated styles. And if you go to the realism way of drawing, it can take your whole life to make it perfect for you. Because a customer does not set an artist’s competence, only an artist himself can make it,” she added.
The tattoo industry in Kazakhstan is still in its infancy, said Vaiman.
“But about 30 artists in the country can make tattoos on the international professional level and it is cheaper than in other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries,” she added. “Kazakhstan is a post-Soviet society. In the USSR, making tattoos was the prerogative of a criminal, so the old generation is still thinking that a tattoo is something criminal and unlawful. But it’s people whose minds are made of wood.”
Vaiman said tattooing is a method of self-expression.
“I think that a tattoo artist without a tattoo, it’s like a shoemaker without shoes. I still make tattoos for myself because I like it, that’s all. But it does not mean that I make it by myself. Another artist makes it for me and I pay them like a customer. It is normal,” she said.
“My work is my way of living and thinking; it’s the most important thing for me, to draw or paint, teaching how to do it and making tattoos,” she said.
Anastasiya Doronina is another female on the Almaty tattoo scene. A makeup and body paint artist, her professional tattoo career began five years ago and she works at DA Studio.
“I have always been interested in different types of paintings on the body, including tattoo art. It is one of the tools of self-expression and it helps a person to express himself by decorating his body,” she said.
Doronina noted tattooing is more hobby than profession for her, but managing the studio is her main job.
“Every year, tattoos are becoming more and more of a fashionable trend in Almaty and Kazakhstan. The number of professional artists that meet all world standards of this art form is increasing. Tattoos are entering the daily life of people and the age of the clients is beginning to grow. Before, the average age of clients was from 18-30; now we have 60-year-old clients, which shows that the Soviet prejudices on tattoos are leaving the minds of people and it is great,” she said.
The Polynesian tattoo is currently a very popular style.
“Every third man wants a tattoo similar to Dwayne Johnson’s. People on the screen set trends and there is nothing we can do about it,” she added.
The artist’s body adornments provide insight into her life.
“I have tattoos and each of them is connected to a certain period of my life; it is very personal. I think every person has his reasons to get a tattoo. Some people think they will look cooler, some want to look like a star and some people want to cover defects on their bodies,” she said.
The Kazakh tattoo industry is developing. The high-level professional artists who have appeared in the industry in the last two to three years can provide worthy competition to world-renowned masters.
“Of course, we have been lagging behind in the development of this sector for several years, even compared to Russia. But I think if everything goes at the current pace, in a few years we can catch up with them,” said Doronina.