Sumina Shrestha, The Nepalese Tattoo Artist Who Challenges Gender Stereotypes

She has always dreamed of becoming a tattoo artist. And in the end she did it despite living in a country where only men are always holding the needle.
by CHIARA MAGGIORE

Translated from the original post here
Sumina Shrestha- Female Tattoo Artist Nepal

The first time I met Sumina Shrestha in her tattoo studio in Kathmandu, I felt that we had something extremely deep in common. Not only the passion for tattoos and art. Sumina is one of the very few, if not the only, tattoo women in Nepal, a country where the world of tattoos seems to belong only to men. When I told my father at the age of 16 that I wanted to be a film director when I grew up, his reaction was not very encouraging. “This is normally a men’s job, ” he said. I couldn’t say otherwise, there are more male directors in the world than female directors; the statistics speak loud and clear. But I never listened to the statics, let alone my father. Today, 11 years after that conversation, I don’t direct films, but I still live in full swing in symbiosis with the images. Today I am a photographer.

One Of The Few Female Tattoo Artists In Nepal

Sumina Shrestha’s name had been suggested to me when I was looking for Nepalese women entrepreneurs to interview and photograph on behalf of the female collective, Local Women Handicrafts, for whom I was volunteering. Behind those sweet eyes and a calm and gentle disposition, a 25-year-old young woman confident and determined reveals herself. Her voice is firm, clear and strong. I can visualize her vibrant energy , only by looking at the bright colors of the tattoos drawn on her arms. I ask her if, as we speak, If I can take pictures of her, right there in her study, with walls full of pen drawings and paintings. I discover with surprise and pleasure that Sumina is also a talented painter who sells her paintings. With a smile she tells me that I can photograph her, but that she doesn’t like being in front of the lens too much. Another thing we have in common.

A Preserving Company

Sumina’s story is traced precisely by the hues of those hanging paintings and by the ink embroideries on her light skin. In Nepal, if a woman has tattoos, she will tend to cover them up and hide them from prying eyes of a rather conservative society. Men, on the other hand, have several and show their arms and legs tattooed with pride and pride. It is no surprise then if the country’s tattoo artists are all male . “When I started four years ago, I was aware that there were no women in my country to do this job, but that never frightened me or intimidated me,” says Sumina, as she begins to get used to the sound of the clicks of my camera. “I knew that I was born to do this job and I know I am also good, so I have always had confidence in my skills and my art”.

BEING A WOMAN IN NEPAL

Being a woman in Nepal is not easy. Nepalese society continues to discourage women from competing with men in the world of work, although they have achieved equal rights on paper. There is still the idea of ​​the wife-mother woman, who is at home taking care of children and cooking for her husband. The deep roots of patriarchy are still well planted in the social fabric and difficult to eradicate. “When I’m on the street and I’m not wearing a jacket, people stare at me because of my tattoos. But I ignore them and keep walking; I am proud of my tattoos”. Sumina says she has been very lucky in the past because her parents supported her in her choice. From an early age they bought her the colors to paint and the notebooks to draw.

Paintings by Sumina Shrestha

First The School, Then Self Taught

So she managed to attend an art school and complete her studies. “It was difficult at the beginning to acquire the skills that allowed me to work as a tattoo artist. I did some courses, but it was somewhat a waste of money and time. So I started learning on my own, looking at other artists and above all doing a lot, a lot of practice. The first person I tattooed was my sister; the result was not bad!”. In contrast, most girls like her do not have the same decision-making power and self-confidence. The family, traditions and the social fabric itself in which they move, they become quicksand which hinder and sink their steps towards personal and economic emancipation.

Inside The Structure Of The Patriarchate

Women in Nepal are still tied to the pillars of a patriarchal structure that is struggling to collapse, despite the strong shocks of the modern era. Having grown up in a certain context in which male supremacy is in force, they believe that there is no possible alternative of life other than marriage. “Many girls contact me on social media and compliment me on what I do. They tell me that they too would like to do such a job and ask me how I did it. Some of them also started tattooing, but then they had to give up on the wishes of their families and the burden of wife.” Those Nepalese women who want to be economically independent and owner of their own business, they have to deal with a reality that does not take them seriously yet and that borders them within the domestic space. When I ask Sumina if her family also wants her to get married, she laughs. “Of course, all parents want their children to marry. I will also marry one day, but not now. I have too many things to do at the moment”.

Sumina Shrestha’s Tattoo Studio

Sumina’s Dream: Helping Other Woman

In fact, Sumina’s dream has not yet come to an end. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Tattoos and painting are arts that Sumina does not want to jealously guard only for herself, on the contrary, she would like to share them with other women like her . “One day I will open my own larger personal space, where I will be able to welcome many female artists, so that they will have the same growth opportunity that I had. I want to be an inspiration for all those women out there who don’t get support from anyone, demoralized by society, discriminated against. First of all, I still have to improve and improve in what I do”.

Resilience And Determination

The personal and professional story of Sumina is a story of resilience, determination, courage. Her words resonate loud and sharp, capable of inspiring all those women in the world who do not feel enough , who diminish themselves or who are diminished by the environment in which they live. Women can be leaders and entrepreneurs in the same way as men . If they want, they can become tattoo artists. And also film directors. I take one last photo in Sumina and ask her what her message is for Nepalese women. Then she looks me straight in the eye and replies without hesitation: “Be yourself, follow your dreams and passions. Whatever profession you want to do in your life, fight for it“. Nepal needs women like Sumina. Every country in the world needs women like her. Women who can inspire other women.

Sumina currently works at Wander Thirst Hostel, in Thamel, Kathmandu.
Here you can see her work:

Website: www.suminashrestha.com.np
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sumina.stha07/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suminaprofile/

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