Mo Naga: The Tattoo Artist From Nagaland
As clichéd as it may sound, the ‘cut, copy, paste’ mantra has infected and created such an irreparable dent in creative industries like music, advertising, films, fine arts and to a lot of extent, journalism that it’s hard to find people who are committed to doing things differently. The same is the case with tattoo artists who are mushrooming at such a fast pace that they will soon outnumber the count of vegetable vendors in any given town. Any fashion design graduate who can paint a bit and can operate the tattoo machine is calling himself or herself a tattoo artist. Maybe that’s the reason you hardly get to see a tattoo that’s backed by a thought process, or at least is concept driven. However, that doesn’t mean everyone is bitten by the copycat bug.
There are needle-wielding artists who are doing great stuff like Moranngam Khaling, popularly known as Mo Naga. As we speak to this National Institute of Fashion Technology graduate, he’s busy interacting with the Headhunters Tribes in the North East region of the country to find out more about their style of needlework. Introducing the tribe to FHM, tells us, “The Headhunters used to kill people and bring back their head to the tribe as a mark of achievement. Then they would hang the head outside their houses to re-attest their supremacy over other people in the tribe. They would also get some form of tattoos done on their chest, which symbolised the soul of the dead. These tattoos were not very complex and the designs would majorly consist of geometric designs, dots, lines and spots. More tattoos, more respect – the calculation was simple.” The tribe continues to exist but since the banning of hunting in 1960s, the tribe has mended its ways. “They are not hunting people anymore, because the law doesn’t allow them to. Yes, once in a blue moon, they kill a buffalo or another big animal, and that’s keeping their tribe alive. Most of them have now converted to Christianity, which considers killing people a sin, so that’s another reason why they are not going for the kill,” informs Mo who is all gung-ho about keeping the tattoo headhunting tribe alive.Now the most obvious question you need to ask someone who is dealing with a tribe like Headhunters on a daily basis is – don’t you feel scared?
“These people are not very happy because the have lost their culture due to the ban on hunting. That could happen to anyone. Imagine one day you wake up and you are told that every tradition that your forefathers and you live with is suddenly illegal. How would you feel? Bad, right? So, they look at every outsider with suspicion and it’s not very easy to interact with them. With me it’s a di fferent case. I’m a Naga myself, so they connect with me. Still, they don’t reveal much about their culture, and that’s what is a sort of challenge because it hampers with the knowledge gathering.”
Once done with the Headhunters, Mo wants to travel to Gujarat to get an idea about the tattoos in that region. “Even though India has a rich tradition of needle work, people who want get a tattoo blindly follow the west while deciding upon a design. They either end up with a barbed wire or a pirate ship. But they’d be surprised to know that even states like Gujarat have a rich tradition of tattoos with interesting motifs that I would like to study next,” concludes the Delhi-based artist who has just opened a tattoo school in Guwahati.