Fat Velvet: A Deeper Look on Hand Poked Tattoos

It was Wednesday afternoon when I met the girls of Fat Velvet. Situated in a room on the second story of Spasial, the girls of Fat Velvet were hanging out along with some tattoo artists who waited for customers who have previously booked tattoo appointments. These tattoo artists were Jeremy, Cen, Fildza, and Diedra Cavina a.k.a Nyon. Four of them were occupied when I came inside the room to interview. Jeremy and Cen were preparing their tools, Fildza was poking ink to Nyon’s upper arm. There was Asty, one of the Fat Velvet gals who happened to be idle, sitting on sofa next to Fildza and Nyon. I asked Asty to sit near me so we could talk comfortably. The customers have yet to come, so while the rest of the group were doing their own thing, Asty and I had a chat.


How did you guys first form Fat Velvet?

Asty: The initial idea came from Saski, an architecture student in Unpar. At that time she was still an ambassador for a brand, and one of her jobs was to handle events. Then she had this idea, why don’t girls get together to create something, bringing themes closely related to female and the issues around female body. So there was it, Saski invited me to join, along with Ayda and Karin as our fields of interest are kinda similar.


You’re all involved in the creative field.

A: Yes. We had this notion about female empowerment and knowledge regarding our field of interests, hence the name Fat Velvet. Why the word “fat”? It has a lot of meaning to us. We’re not just bringing up the issues around female body, but also in a way that it describes our diverse talents and interests. We really wanted to make a course of events that include all of our interests. Like visual art, music, and dance, you name it. Incidentally, our friend Fildza has been doing hand poked tattoo for a while. So we asked her to join us since her field of interest aligns with our vision. Then we decided to make hand poked tattoo as our first event.

Tattoo is closely tied with our themes as it uses body as medium. Today’s Sudden Studio was intended to be the opener that leads to other series of events that showcase our interests. With exception of Jeremy and Cen, they’re not part of Fat Velvet. They happened to be practicing hand poked tattoo, so we invited them to join our pre-event. There will be discussion with Panca, about the history of tattoo. There will also be coaching clinic, and a hand poked tattoo workshop. In our main event we will also have a tattoo exhibition. We wanted to show people, that we, an all female collective are arranging a course of events that discuss female and empowerment. So we do hope female audiences would find our themes relatable.


So, let me rephrase this, your events wouldn’t only be about tattoo? There will also be other events that showcase your interests. Say, Saski who has background in contemporary dance, and Karin who occasionally plays music as DJ, and the rest of you with your own respective interests, right?

A: We wanted to start from tattoo, because it fits real well with our theme about the body and knowledge, in a sense that it is “fat” because each of us represents broad and varying interests in the creative field.



Why hand poked tattoo?

A: Speaking of hand poked tattoo, amateur tattoo artists aren’t allowed to use machine for 3 years, they need to learn a lot of stuff. Hand poked technique allows them to explore tattoos with bare tools. Panca said in Bandung, the machine specialized tattoo artists are very few, because it is that hard for a tattoo artist to be finally using machine. In their first 3 years amateur tattoo artists should learn by helping around in studios owned by professional tattoo artists, and during this time touching machine is off limits.


So in their first years they have to work as an assistant to professional tattoo artists?

A: Yes, an assistant. We asked Panca, why are there so many hand poked tattoo artists, yet the artists who work with machine aren’t as much. As I said earlier, tattoo artists have to intern in professional studio for 3 years, and they aren’t allowed to use tattoo machine. Consequently these artists don’t have the opportunity to explore much about tattoo. Hand poked technique allows you to learn with tools that are easy to find. Fildza also had this thought of continue doing tattoo with machine, but for now she practices with hand poked tattoo.


Any plans for hand poked tattoo artists here to do tattoos with machine?

A: I don’t know for sure, but in the next event we’re going to discuss a lot of aspects about tattoo, hopefully there are plans to go that way. But in the mean time, we’re focusing on hand poked tattoo. Because the machine specialized artists are very few, right?

Fildza: Yes.

A: By the way, there’s this funny incident where tattoo that Panca drew faded and completely gone within weeks.


How so?

A: I have no idea. It was when Panca first practiced drawing tattoo with machine. It was weird. He had set the machine with the correct setting…

Nyon: Really? Gone, like really gone?

A: Yeah, he was flustered. Imagine one day you woke up to find that the tattoo you drew had completely disappeared (chuckles).

N: It didn’t disappear overnight, right?

A: No, it probably took 2 weeks to completely disappear.


It just fades?

A: Yeah, it really left no trace whatsoever…


Why did it happen? Is it because he didn’t poke the machine deep enough into the skin?

A: Could be that way. There are a lot of factors that could affect tattoo’s outcome. It could be the way he use the machine, or he just did not thrust the skin deep enough.


Panca is sort of like a mentor to you?

A: No, Panca is an Industrial Design graduate. He focuses in tattoo, all kinds of tattoo. That’s why he‘d serve as speaker in our discussion next Wednesday, because he specializes in history of tattoo. He learned hand poke, he also learned how to use machine, although he wouldn’t call himself a tattoo artist as he’s a  historian. Panca repeatedly went to tribal natives such as Mentawai, and recently went to Papua to study tattoo culture there. He also made a film, Bless This Mess. If I recall correctly, the film discusses about tattoo, how in New Order era the government condemned tattoo by associating it with communism. There’s this person who wrongly accused as communist just because he had tattoo. To film this Panca often visited prison to interview the inmates with tattoos.


To tattoo artists in this room, how do you describe your visual style?

F: Doodles with hints of melancholy, and also morbid stuffs.
N: Honestly I don’t know how to describe mine. It depends on what people want me to draw, really.
Cen: Cute doodles, hipster-like, reflecting slices of life.
Jeremy: I kinda derive my style from cubism. I want to give an impression of innocence, the expression of bitterness and worries on the faces that I draw.


Songs to listen to when you draw tattoo/get a tattoo.

F: Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle full album, La Dispute – A Broken Jar
N: Descendents – Bonus Fat, Cinta Laura – Oh, Baby
C: Super Furry Animals – Juxtapozed with U, The XX – VCR
J: Anderson Paak – Put Me Thru, Metronomy – Corinne



Last week’s Sudden Studio served as an opening that eventually leads to other series of events under the name of Marka Samcara. These events mainly discuss each of Fat Velvet members’ area of interests. Next event, still exploring tattoo and its history, is due on Wednesday, Nov 22.


Text by Nadzifa, photos by Juliansyah.

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