Ink God plays it safe with tattoos

Visiting a tattoo studio as a first-timer is naturally a scary experience, but that fear has not deterred many.

The possibility of contracting diseases, as tattoos are drawn using needles, can also turn would-be customers off.

But that is not the case at Thato Mokhadi's tattoo studio, Dipowers Ink, in Alexandra, where cleanness is a priority.

"The worst that could happen is cross-contamination, infections and permanent scaring or tissue damage.

"Because of that, I saw the need to educate local artists and the public on the right and safe ways of going about it," said Mokhadi, 29.

When you enter into the tattooing room at Mokhadi's studio, you find neatly packed cupboards filled with needles, ink bottles and other equipment.

Mokhadi places a newly opened needle on the table, sterilises all the material he will use and puts his gloves on, while placing all waste in a safety medical waste box that is tightly sealed.

"Safety is everything when you're working with blood, flesh and bleeding skin," said Mokhadi, who ensures that his clients are in safe hands.

Mokhadi, popularly known as Ink God, is a self-taught artist.

He said the idea to host an annual tattoo festival was as a result of concerns he had about the dangers that individuals get exposed to while trying to ink themselves.

Mokhadi said the Alex Tattoo Festival, which he will host in October, will aim to educate clients on their rights and what to expect when going to a tattoo studio.

"I went for a one-year apprenticeship in a professional accredited studio in 2012 when I decided to turn my talent into a business, and that's where I learnt that safety means everything when you do a tattoo and body piercing," he said.

Mokhadi said many aspiring tattoo artists buy equipment and take tutorials online and train themselves.

"A tattoo is something permanent on the skin and body, and if anything goes wrong it's irreversible and regrettable," he said.

He said the festival will have a group of professional tattoo experts who will educate artists and give them the opportunity to register for a public health certificate and showcase their talent while learning to do it right with the supervision of experts.

"The art requires needles and professional body inks that must be sterilised because they are directly used on the flesh, which becomes an open wound. New needles must be opened on every usage, gloves, sanitary wipes must be prioritised, especially because there are transferrable illnesses like HIV/Aids," said Mokhadi.

Raised by a single mother with his sister, Mokhadi said his mother was his biggest supporter.

"My mom believed in me when I dropped out of my marketing diploma in my third year to make a career out of what started as a hobby.

"If she were another parent, she would have been angry and tried to force me to stay in school but she understood my calling," he said.

Mokhadi said he dropped out of college because he decided that he would never work in a corporate environment.

"I knew I was not going to work for anyone because I love art with all my being. Investing in my studio was the best thing I could have ever done," he said.

Mokhadi said he started his business with R1,500 and bought a tattooing kit and grew from there.

"I charge from R550 an hour and R350 on smaller tattoos that take less than 30 minutes, depending on what my client wants." Clients have to make bookings.

"I take my time when I produce a tattoo. That goes from consulting with my customer to getting the design on paper then to the computer and drawing it on the preferred body part," he said.

The biggest tattoo Mokhadi has produced is an A4-sized design with hundreds of personally preferred symbols, names and images.

"My favourite tattoo is on my face, which is a drawing of a wooden spoon and a baking rolling pin because my mom bakes and I'm very close to her," he said.

The tattoo festival will be held on October 31 at The Hub multipurpose centre in Alexandra.

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