A Sukhumvit tattooer in Bangkok
By Mike McCabe
A young woman who’s nick name is Ouy tattoos on the notorious street called Sukhumvit in Bangkok, Thailand. Her spotless, sidewalk level booth is open to the hectic street. Huge, belching busses; tuk-tuk taxis and thousands of cars fly past a few feet from her small work area. Pedestrians with curious eyes stride past sneaking peaks at the modern tattoo flash she hangs neatly on her clean, white walls.
This is an adventurous move for a 29-year-old woman. Her section of Bangkok is notorious to say the least. The completely over the top streets Soi Cowboy and Soi Nana, where half naked girls dance in seedy bars to the frantic Western beats are a few feet away. Nightly she does battle with drunken foreigners, pick pockets, drug addicts and streetwalkers. A lot for a pretty woman to deal with while she’s trying to make a living.
She started to tattoo two years ago and has maintained her shop for just over a year. As a young woman in college she studied to become a secretary but quickly became disillusioned with that path. Her ex-husband was an accomplished Bangkok tattoorer and after they broke up, she decided to pursue the art on her own to support herself and her young daughter.
In terms of the artwork, she likes modern tattoo designs more than the superstitious tattoo designs that are traditional to Thailand. “When I tattoo modern style designs,” she comments. “I can pursue my interests in art. I can experiment with color, the design qualities. I can make things interesting for myself.”
To be a tattoo businesswoman in Bangkok is challenging. There are no tattoo teachers so she had to learn it all on her own. She knows that her tattoo customers are looking for a tattooer who is very professional, knows the trade and knows the ropes. She likes what she is doing but feels that this is the first step for her. She wants to improve her skill and ability as a tattoo artist but realizes it will take time.
Tattooers in urban areas like Bangkok get an assortment of customers with sophisticated tastes that have been influenced by the global enthusiasm about tattooing. Tattoo magazines are everywhere, influencing what people want for tattoos. Ouy explains, “A lot of tourists come by my shop on their way to Soi Cowboy. They look at the pictures on my wall and choose one. They are the same pictures they could get at home but they want a tattoo from Bangkok. They are happy to see me working in my booth. They like that I keep things very clean.”