Welcome to Tattoo Talk, a showcase (and celebration!) of women with tattoos. Today’s very special guest is Laila Shalimar, a middle-eastern, vintage living, makeup loving pinup blogger who I was lucky enough to meet a few years ago.
Name: You can call me Laila Shalimar
Age: 21 with a few years’ experience
When did you get your first tattoo?
I was 19, with a head full of young dreams and a heart full of love when I first chose to get tattooed. It was a belated birthday gift from someone I was very close to at the time. I had just moved out of home and was going through your typical teenage rebellion. I chose to get a tattoo of a mirrored bass clef (it looks like a love heart) between my shoulder blades. It was a piece that was very personal to me at the time. I was just another runaway female bassist who thought she could change the future of music.
My first tattoo experience was the most meticulous I had been with any of my body mods. I had done all the right things. I went to a reputable (albeit expensive) tattoo parlour in my town, I had thought over my design for almost three years, I made sure I followed all the aftercare procedures as per the receptionist’s instructions.There were spiritual things I had to consider (more on that soon!). Yet, for the most unpredictable of reasons, my first tattoo upsets me more than I am willing to disclose. It makes me uncomfortable because it reminds me of a fragile and beautifully painful time of my youth. It reminds me of the person who gifted it to me, it reminds me of my naivety, it reminds me of the culture I tried to shed that lay buried under my skin. While I had intended it to be a symbol of my resistance, I recall myself being at my most vulnerable when I first got inked. Let’s just say my first tattoo healed faster than my broken heart did that summer and all the aftercare in the world couldn’t help ease the sting.
How many tattoos do you have in total? Which one is your favourite?
I have 14 tattoos and counting! To be honest, it really hard to pick a favourite. But if I had to pick based on my current mood it would be the portrait of my cat, Oogy Rwan, on my right leg done by an amazing Perth artist called Jamie Nicol. People often describe their pets as companions and at risk of sounding like a crazy cat lady, Oogy is more of a son than a pet to me. For biological as well as personal reasons I have made the conscious decision not to have children. Oogy’s arrival into my life two years ago has helped me make peace with the fact that while I may never experience being a human mummy, I am still able to watch a beautiful young creature grow up and be a part of the magical journey that is life.
Do you tend to get tattoos that are very meaningful, or tattoos that are purely aesthetical?
I would have to say it’s a bit of both. Though when inspiration strikes, it is usually something meaningful that makes me want to commit art to skin. I was raised Sunni Muslim and in my father’s sect of Islam, tattoos are considered taboo if not forbidden. This is despite the fact that my ethnic group had partaken in tattooing for thousands of years before the advent of Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. Tribal Afghan women still to this day have decorative facial tattoos to ward off the evil eye!
When I got my first tattoo, it was a decision that weighed very heavily on my conscience. In my young mind at the time, I had rejected my father’s religion for a life of rebellion, music, love and art and my shitty little bass clef tattoo was meant to encapsulate all these complex and mixed up feelings. Many years later, I have managed to reconnect with Islam, but on my own terms and not as “my father’s religion”. I owe this in part to the grace of my beautiful and patient mother and to the likes of other third culture kids like myself who found it hard to reconcile Islam with their new cultural identities post 9/11. Books like The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight and the works of Muslim Feminist scholars like Amina Wadud became my new gospel truth. The idea that the relationship between myself and Allah was private and personal allowed me to make peace with who I had become instead of hopelessly searching for who I was meant to be. A lot of my tattoos play on my identity as a Muslim immigrant and are a reminder of the struggles I went through and am still powering through.
I like having some sense of symmetry to my body art. On my sternum I have the word Libertine tattooed in calligraphy by an artist called Eddie XII. I think if anything, it is one of the words I most identify with as a person. On my left side, I have the word Ami (the Urdu word for mother) tattooed in simple calligraphy with my mother’s date of birth. I got this piece done on my mums 50th birthday and two years on she still doesn’t know I have it! On my right side I have the word Allah tattooed in simplistic Arabic Calligraphy. This one was done by a fellow tattooed Muslim, Krishna Akis, at Mason Ink in Bali. His friend DekBen, another tattooed Muslim punk kid, did the Arabic quote on my left outer thigh. The sentiment behind that particular tattoo is that the person I am is the result of change brought on by hardship. I really enjoyed getting those two pieces the most because I was able to bond with the artists. When I first approached them to tattoo me they were both shocked and delighted to meet a tattooed middle eastern/Southeast Asian Muslim. Through the sessions we discussed (as best we could manage with my extremely limited Indonesian and their limited English) our relationship with the Divine, with our body art and specifically, black letter Muslimkind who aren’t too keen on body modification in any form. I think we talked for hours past my appointment. After all, it’s not every day I get to meet tattooed Muslims and when I do, it’s like meeting a long lost relative!
I could go on and on about the symbolism and meanings and stories behind all fourteen of my pieces but I will probably just sum it up and say that my tattoos are snippets from the important parts of my life, turning my body into a truly wonderful scrapbook.
Are there any tattoo artists you admire?
As far as style goes, I am a fan of traditional and neo-traditional tattoos as they fit in well with my personal aesthetic. I particularly love quirky twists on early tattoo artists like Sailor Jerry. However, I am also super picky with whom I get tattooed by. The way I see it, I am paying some person to look at me from unflattering angles, stab me with needles, inflict a world of hurt on me and then leaving me with a colourful, albeit permanent scar. I don’t think I could let just any person have the role in my life and so I tend to veer towards artists I connect with on some level or the other. Jamie Nicol from the Iron Anchor is one of those people. Despite his tender age, this kid is dynamite at his work. In my opinion he outshines people twice his age who consider themselves masters at the craft.
I am a pretty cryptic person and having grown up in a culture and religion that absolutely thrives on symbolism, it is often hard relaying what I want to an artist. A lot of people don’t get why I won’t just settle for any old flash straight off the wall. I have been told I am too fussy or that my ideas don’t translate well into art. It took me a long time to find an artist I was comfortable with and this in itself is a testament to Jamie’s artistic brilliance, patience and vivid imagination. He is able to pluck random symbols from my head and bring them to life in ink all the while ensuring my original idea is not lost in the creative process. What I appreciate about Jamie’s work is not simply how well he translates strange ideas to images but also how much attention he gives to detail. To me that’s the sign of a good listener which in turn makes a great artist. I think it also explains why some of my most meaningful tattoos have been done by him such as my rose/crescent piece to commemorate my tenth year as an immigrant Australian and the portrait of my cat Oogy I discussed earlier.
What is the most interesting experience you have had relating to your tattoos?
There have been many interesting experiences thus far. I have had a mixed response from my community about my tattoos. It has varied from rumours about my character, to questions about whether I count as a “real Muslim” given the manner in which I choose to practise my faith, to research interviews by doctoral candidates in America about Muslim feminism. Somehow the idea of a tattooed Muslim woman is still a novelty to a lot of people though I can assure you I am not the only one of my kind. I am just lucky I am able to be visible without much consequence.
At most, visibility as a tattooed Muslim woman in Australia in the digital age comes at the price of the occasional internet troll. For example, I recently had two very interesting Instagram comments on my Allah tattoo. The first was from an anonymous account (the kind with no followers or pictures) complaining that I was what was wrong with the world, that people like me are contributing to the Islamic takeover of the west and that Muslims should just all be mass slaughtered. The second one was a few weeks later from some dude who wanted me to repent for what I had done and to get my Allah tattoo removed because my body was unclean and didn’t deserve the name of God on it. Both comments made me chuckle at how brazen people can be behind a screen of anonymity and how much my existence pisses off small minded right wing people from all walks of life. I relish this fact and revel in my choice to be inked because to me, my body art is a celebration of all the things I have been through and the person I have become so far.
What advice would you give to someone planning their first tattoo?
Have control over every aspect of your tattoo…I mean EVERY aspect, even the financial one. Sometimes having a boyfriend pay for a piece can leave a bad taste in your mouth once you break up regardless of how meaningful or beautiful your tattoo turns out.
Find an artist who gets you and I mean, really gets you. It’s easy to be whisked into the whole social media game and go with the most popular artists of their time. No one is saying those artists aren’t good, but tattoos being such a permanent thing, it’s important to find an artist who understands what you are after, and the significance of the work to you.
Be wise with your tattoo choices and placements. I am a big fan of bodily autonomy (ie do whatever you want with YOUR body) but understand that there are a lot of areas in the work sector that hold bias against people with tattoos. If you want neck tatts, a rad chest piece, hand and knuckle pieces then be prepared to fight for your right to employment or resign to wearing full sleeve turtle necks and hobo gloves all year round. Personally, I think workplace respectability politics are BULLSHIT but be prepared to fight the good fight. As the saying goes “nothing good in life comes without struggle”. See you at the picket line!
Thanks, Laila Shalimar!
If you’re interested in being featured, please send me an email: skullandcrosstales AT Hotmail DOT com