Photography by Nourhan Refaat
The Cairo Tattoo Convention by Nowhereland Tattoo, which hosted tattoo artists from all over the world at the Tipsy Teapot in Maadi, providing tattoo sessions over two days, took place earlier on November 6th and 7th, and was a huge success. People came together to raise awareness about tattoo culture, its importance as a tool of self expression as well as its value as an art form. Plenty of people used the chance to get tattooed. While some were returning customers, for others, this was their very first ink!
The event itself was a cultural overdose. Many talented artists from all over the world, each of them with a different style, used the fresh canvas of their customers to bring their art to life.
The event was widely anticipated, since the tattoo culture has been growing during the past few years, with more celebrities flaunting their ink than there ever was in Egypt’s pop culture history. However, the tattoo culture has been around long before that. Although it has been far more popular in the West, Egypt’s culture is full of ink, going as far as Ancient Egypt and lingering for as long as a few decades ago in Upper Egypt, where women used to don tattoos on their chin as a beauty mark.
“some of us had tattoos for 15-20 years, the artists at least. And back then they would be shocked”, Timur Reda
For the past few decades, though, and especially in Cairo, tattoos have been frowned upon. For years people shied away from any form of permanent body art, and those who didn’t were met with strange glances at the very least. That is, until very recently. Nowadays it has become more common, and in many ways, it has become a respected art form. Glances are still there, society still hasn’t fully accepted it, but more artists are emerging, and more people are intrigued by the movement. During our stay at the Cairo Tattoo Convention, we’ve spoken to tattoo artist Timur Reda of True Skin Art about this, “some of us had tattoos for 15-20 years, the artists at least. And back then they would be shocked. Now they’re, I guess, more amused because they see that on TV”, he tells.
The more we spoke to people, the more we’ve found out that it is not just about the act of getting tattooed, but what it means to them. This meaning could vary from documenting an important life event, to the memory of a loved one, to something as simple as art appreciation. Here are some of our favorite stories:
Katrina has been living in Egypt for a few months now. When she found out about the Tattoo Convention, she decided to take that chance to get some fresh tattoos. She noticed people acted differently around her new, more visible tattoos, “on my walk here actually I did have a bit more attention than I normally would”, she tells.
When we first saw Zeinab, we noticed that she had a few big tattoos, and all of them seemed fresh. As it turns out, Zeinab never had tattoos before, and the large sleeve on her arm, as well as the cute Tinkerbell on her neck were her first tattoos. To her, tattoos weren’t an option until recently, “I’ve always liked tattoos, but I thought it was unlike me, but now I’ve discovered that this isn’t the case”, she tells. During the painful process of being tattooed, Zeinab was supported by her husband, “he encouraged me the most, he kept telling me I’ll be able to get through it and not feel that much pain”, she says. Zeinab’s pretty tattoos are more than just colorful flowers and a cute image of Tinkerbell, “I feel like this expresses me more than anything else, because this is how I feel deep down, that I’m still a child”, she explains. Zeinab and her husband both got their first tattoos done together at the Cairo Tattoo Convention
“I feel like this expresses me more than anything else”, Zeinab Medhat
This wasn’t Ahmed’s first tattoo, although he started quite recently, “I first got into tattoos in September 2014”, he tells. To Ahmed, tattoos are all about self expression, “you can’t just put a nice drawing on your body. It has to mean something to you deep down”, he says, “even if you like a tattoo, you’ll get bored of it, but if it means something to you, you’ll never get bored”. As for people trying to persuade him not to get inked, Ahmed didn’t have that kind of problem, “I’m a big guy… they can’t”, he says.
“even if you like a tattoo, you’ll get bored of it, but if it means something to you, you’ll never get bored”, Ahmed Talaat
Amr is a more experienced tattoo-enthusiast; his detailed sleeves caught our eye the moment we saw him. By speaking to him, we found out that his impressive tattoos were the result of over a decade of tattooing, “I started around 15 to 17 years ago”, he recalls, “it wasn’t acceptable here in Egypt at all, back then, not to my parents, but now it is”. This cultural shift must have it, “people are more broad-minded, and they want to express themselves, everyone has something they want to get out there”, he tells, “it’s an addiction, too”. It is difficult to understand why people are against it so much, seeing that it’s always been part of our culture, “we’ve always had tattoos in Upper Egypt and Egypt’s countryside, that was a long time ago”, he explains, “getting our generation’s parents to understand was very difficult, but beyond that it’s different. We’re changing”.
“we’ve always had tattoos in Upper Egypt and Egypt’s countryside, that was a long time ago”, Amr Kandil
Bringing this tattoo culture back can only serve to strengthen the already powerful art movement in Egypt. That people have the will to express themselves so liberally, using such artistic means, is only a great sign that there is only more outspokenness, more liberty and more art to come.