This Manipur-based artist is set to steal the show at Kerala’s first tattoo festival

We catch up with, Mo Naga, the Neo-Naga style pioneer, as he visits Kochi for Tarazwa Festival this weekend.

Jose Joy Published :  25th January 2019 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  25th January 2019 06:00 AM
Mo Naga

Mo Naga

WE are familiar with exhibitions that feature traditional block prints and khadi textiles. Even our ancestral music and art have been part of revivalist movements. Manipur-based NIFT graduate Moranngam Khaling brings to light another ancient custom that is endangered—tattooing.
“In the traditional context, tattoos are an eternal mark of personal and social identity. There’ll be a huge hole in the understanding of the aesthetic and cultural expression of any community if one does not study this practice,” says Moranngam aka Mo Naga.

With over 15 years of experience in inking skin, he’s even set up Godna Gram tattoo village in New Delhi to help young artists revive their roots. We catch up with the Neo-Naga style pioneer as he visits Kochi for Tarazwa Festival this weekend.

Digging up

Mo Naga at work

It was an exploration of native textiles for a graduation project in 2007 that got Mo interested in his tribe’s inking rituals. Realising that there were only a handful of inked elders and even fewer veteran artists, he left behind his vocation in designing to chase something new; or old, rather.

“I didn’t have the luxury of waiting, as knowledgeable people were passing away. It was very important for me to study, understand and document these,” he says. In the early days, he researched online, in archives and through conversations with cultural activists. Later, he left the comforts of the city to trace the roots of the art.

“Some of the last designs were done over half a century ago and certain communities didn’t even have any records. So, I tracked down people who had witnessed tattooing and even looked into folk songs and stories,” informs the 33-year-old.

Balancing modernity
While ‘tribal’ mostly meant Polynesian or American designs earlier, Mo informs

Tattoos by Mo

that revivalists from places like the Philippines and Canada are giving a new perspective to this tattoo style.

“There are very few countries with such diverse tattooing customs as ours. So, I’m trying to raise awareness about the rich heritage and hoping that more people will take it up,” says the tattooist, who developed the neo-Naga style.

Currently working with modern machines as well as old techniques like tapping and poking, he even creates his own dyes from natural materials. “My style uses symbolic scripts which are taken from not only Naga tattooing but also other art forms ranging from textile to wood carvings. Basically, it’s your story in Naga aesthetics,” he says, in conclusion.

From January 25 - 27.
At Pachamama Cafe, Aluva