Interview with Ciara Havishya – Things&Ink
Ciara Havishya is a self-taught tattoo artist based in Calgary, Canada. Ciara creates intricate decorative-style tattoos in art, using both black and color to create stunning pieces that are deeply inspired by Indian art and the history of Indian art. We caught up with Ciara to explore their inspirations, their Mandy-style tattoos and what tattooing means to them …
How long have you been tattooing and what led you to become a tattoo artist? I’ve been tattooing for a little over five years, it’s been the longest five years of my life. I had wanted to become a tattoo artist since I was a young teenager, when I discovered mehndi at a wedding party I attended. I started practicing more and more and developed a love for working with people and on the skin. Since then I wanted to move forward and I am lucky that today I have the opportunity to make a career.
Where do you get your inspiration from / what influences you? I am most inspired by Indian art from the Gupta period, such as the frescoes from the Ajanta caves and the sculptures from Ellora. The Gupta period in Indian art refers to the art made in the northern region of what we now call India in the years 300-480. It is a truly unique piece of time and space, and Buddhist art from that period is greatly influenced by Chinese and West Asian. contact, you can see it in the way the figures and compositions of wall panels are painted, etc.
I love the way women are presented during this period, every swelling of the skin is highlighted and their bodies just drip jewelry without covering anything but the pubic area. There is temptation and freedom and a deep acceptance of nature in art, which speaks to me constantly.
Unfortunately, there are few valuable remaining works of art from this period. To approach this period in art, I continued to study Japanese art and Tibetan Buddhist art from later periods, which have stylistic similarities, in the hope that one day I will be able to approach this aesthetic from the Gupta period, which it moved me so much.
It makes me laugh a little, thinking that it took Europeans another 1,200 years to learn what a woman’s body should look like and another 100-200 years after that to learn perspective, but that’s just me!
How would you describe your tattoo style? My style is the application of decorative arts from several different sources on the body. I look at textile patterns, embroidery, architecture and historical tattoo documents from times and people of the past to create new patterns that reflect my focus on the timelessness, elegance and love of the human body in all its manifestations.
Tell us about your own tattoos, do you have a personal favorite tattoo or a memorable tattoo that you would like to share with us? Honestly, I’m mostly covered in scary, horrible, ugly tattoos that need to be laser-covered or covered, because I let a lot of my friends tattoo me while they’re studying, so maybe I’m not one to ask me !!
But I have a really stunning piece from Brayden @BooneNaka (I believe that’s his real name). He was inspired by the traditions of Trajva in Gujurat and he did the most beautiful work, creating his own composition, adding his own elements and making one of the very few tattoos I have that I am really proud of. He is also a gentle, thoughtful and evil talented artist and made the whole experience really wonderful and I am so grateful for that.
What does tattooing mean to you? Tattooing is a strange thing, for me it means everything and for some people nothing, and for others too much.
For me, this is perhaps the closest thing I have to a spiritual practice, it is a daily practice to be present, to see another person fully, and to try to create an experience that affirms dignity, freedom of action, and authority.
I have several daily rituals with my practice, listening to music by local Canadian artists every day before I start listening to and recognizing the people who have lived here longer than any of us settlers. I pray that before I start with incense, I will inhale intently and with good intentions and send my exhalations to God or the Spirit or whoever is listening. It’s all meaningful and pointless in the end, but it’s still the beauty of doing it. The performers I listen to in case anyone is interested are Tsimka to remember my West Coast family and the Red tribe, and TchuTchu to get a reason for the prairies I live in today.
We think your Mendi style tattoos are beautiful, could you tell us more about your decision to practice this style? I made henna before I painted, which is how I started with the style. It took me a long time to get to the point of feeling comfortable with this style of tattooing. I don’t think he was fully conscious, but as a teenager I received some criticism from people around me that my mendo was not “real art” because it simply copied the same pattern over and over again according to these others. In fact, I’ve never stopped making entirely Mandy-style drawings, but I turned to making a lot of ink drawings of people and animals, and that was actually the style I worked on for most of my tattoo.
I did a lot of engraving botanical tattoos and illustrative animals in black before slowly moving on to almost entirely decorative patterns inspired by Mandy. It took a while to feel technically comfortable with this style as a tattoo artist, in fact it is quite difficult to do well, although it may seem simple. It also took me a while to feel comfortable creating cultural art within a consumer culture, and I still find ways to identify areas of discomfort and update my interaction needs.
As a mixed race Indian with limited family ties, it also took me a while to feel as if I had the right to do this job, in many ways there are tattoos with closer and more direct links to our culture than I do. . .
But part of the reason I’m a little further from my origins is colonial history and intergenerational violence. My grandparents were the children of workers who were brought to Mauritius 150 years ago to work on sugar cane plantations. Their families adapted and assimilated and gave up certain traditions and beliefs in order to gain greater access to the world. I am blessed to do this work of learning and finding my roots in a way that has opened so many doors for me that were closed to my grandparents.
What would you like to tattoo more? More free-flowing hands mehndi pieces without symmetry! Symmetry is so overrated, even though it’s nice. I also love to explore Colam’s traditions in tattooing. But I am extremely careful how I design them and without ready access to information on what exactly certain parts mean or how they should be, I am limited in what I can do.
We understand that Mandy is often culturally appropriated. Do you think it is inappropriate for some people to get Mehndi tattoos? No. I don’t think it’s appropriate for some people to get Mandy-style tattoos IF they’re done by someone who should be getting tattoos. Great if.
As an Indian tattoo artist, I had to admit that I could not control who or who did not tattoo me. Some of my absolute worst clients were Indians, and some of my best clients were white, and in both ways I don’t check my clients for a competition when they ask me for mehndi tattoos. When people talk about Mendi-style tattoos, they often associate the actual Mendi-inspired tattoo with the entire emerging genre of black / tattoo designs of Indian / Asian models and deities. There must be some distinction between the two.
Mehndi, as is done in India for weddings and celebrations, is really decorative, there are nuances in the patterns that show the regional origin of the wearer or religious affiliation, but for the most part henna designs are not sacred. However, when we start with non-Indian, non-Hindu tattoos that support themselves from tattooing deities on other white people who are not believers, I think it starts to feel like Orientalism.
Unfortunately, there is a culture of white tattoos that indiscriminately tattoo Indian images of religious and spiritual significance and have a clientele that is happy to buy it. It feels too hollow to see from the outside.
I feel that I can understand when an artist has a real investment in the study of culture, history and faith, but when he does not see it, it is obvious. I also see a lot of inconsistencies between how these artists are somehow almost raised to do something “different”, while Indian tattoos are so few and far between and many are almost anonymous. I don’t see these white tattoo artists sharing resources with others, I don’t see them training Indian artists, I don’t even see them tattooing a lot of Brown people, all I see is a culture of Indian art production created entirely by and for white people and it is not right. Until there is a more level playing field for POC and BIPOC tattoo artists exploring their heritage and tattoo ritual, I cannot support the work and ethos of white tattoo artists who make Indian tattoos.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share with us? I had so much before Kovid. I was trying to organize an artist’s residence in India to learn Pata Chitra, which is a linear art form representing deities in traditional styles. I even learned to prepare in Hindi, but unfortunately the world had other plans.
For now, I am joining a new mentoring opportunity, where I will learn from Doug Fink in Bushido to improve my work and push for new work styles. He is a traditional Japanese tattoo artist with decades of experience and I look forward to next year and some training and improvements.
Words: Lucy Edwards, A 21-year-old tattooed freelance writer, mother of cats and enthusiast of new things. You will most likely find that Lucy publishes mental health awareness and self-acceptance about her Instagram.