Bali’s Female Tattoo Artists Make their Mark on a Male-dominated Industry

by Anita

From film and politics to everyday life, the theatrics of gender inequality can be seen played out right before our eyes on a daily basis. The tattoo industry is no exception. On an island such as Bali, where streets are dotted with tattoo studios, a surprisingly — or perhaps not so surprisingly — small number of female tattoo artists are offering their time and talent to ink-enthusiasts. Bali Advertiser spoke to four tattoo artists who are making a permanent mark on the island.


Viona Mallory

Viona Mallory says that tattoo machines make her uncomfortable. This is the reason she has c hosen to combine her love for tattoos with hand poking, a non-mechanical tattooing tradition where the ink is poked into the skin using a stick and a needle. “I have no feeling for tattoo machines. Also, the buzzing sound they make is horrible. I love the back-to-basics, more rhythmic, feel of hand poking,” she says. Originally from Blitar in East Java, Viona moved to Bali three years ago to open a clothing business, but was sidetracked — or rather put on the right path – by her partner, who is also a tattoo artist. “I have learnt everything I know from my partner. In fact, one of the first hand poking tattoos I did was some dot work just below his eye. He really must have trusted me,” she says, laughing. Currently working at Altar Tattoo Bali in Canggu, where she started around a year ago, Viona’s favorite style is dot work, especially ornaments, patterns and mandalas. She also often incorporates traditional Balinese imagery in her designs. Viona’s talent has recently been recognized at the Bali Tattoo Expo 2017, where she was named one of the top ten artists of the day.


Caecilia Lyra Chrysantia

Also honing her craft at Altar Tattoo Bali, Caecilia Lyra Chrysantia says that Bali is always on the back of her head, pointing to a tattoo of a Bali-inspired mandala on her lower scalp — a hand poked piece done by her colleague Viona. This is one of the four tattoos that Caecilia got since moving to Bali from Tangerang, just outside Jakarta, two years ago. Today, she specializes in black and gray designs, and is more than content with her chosen profession. “Many people still think that tattoos are too masculine for girls,” Caecilia says, pointing to a tattoo of a chrysanthemum on her arm. “I couldn’t disagree more. Tattoos are symbolic. This one for example is based on my name Chrysantia, and it holds a lot of meaning.” Caecilia has always been fond of drawing — in fact, she says, she used to do little else before becoming a tattoo artist. It took the encouragement of her uncle, who invited her to Bali, to embark on her new career. “I used to be an introvert. I would always sit at home and draw,” she says. “My uncle connected me with Ezy, the owner of Altar, and he saw potential in my drawings. He has been teaching me every since.” Working at the studio has given Caecilia an opportunity to work on a wide variety of designs. Some of her more memorable pieces include the legendary leader of the Majapahit kingdom, Gajah Mada, and a 30-centimeter tattoo of a crow on the chest of her Altar colleague Viona. “It’s way more exciting to create images on people than paper,” Caecilia says. “I love people’s reactions when they first see my tattoos on their skin. It makes me happy when they love my work.”


Tarita Aurora

Tarita Aurora, who makes guest appearances at Artful Ink Bali in Seminyak, when she is not travelling the world, says her start in the industry was anything but orthodox. “My first apprenticeship was at a private studio in Sydney, where I was living at the time, with a man who approached me at a shopping center. His face was covered in tattoos. Everything about it seemed dodgy, but I said yes anyway,” she says. “He taught me how to ink on fruit, and after only three weeks, he gave me my first job: retouching the old work on his forehead.” Tarita, who grew up between Jakarta and Sydney, and has been tattooing for 12 years, moved to Bali in 2013 after a year of backpacking and a five-year stint in Jakarta. While she describes her tattooing style as psychedelic, surreal black-work with a touch of southeast Nusantara patterns, she is also quick to point out that Bali continually inspires her designs. “I love the temple designs, intricate wood carvings, the organic spirals, and, most of all, the intention behind the sacred patterns.” While Tarita’s signature designs include fairies and mandalas, she says that her most memorable tattooing experiences take place when a tattoo session turns into a transformative ritual, and the client undergoes an emotional state of release. “It can be very heavy, but cleansing. This is when I assume a slightly different role, and I start using clearing incenses such as copal, frankincense and palo santo,” she says. “I am always honored and humbled to be able to assist in my clients’ transformation.”


Lidya Adventa

Lidya Adventa, the owner and tattoo artist at Be No Square in Kerobokan, says that she has seen a gradual shift in Indonesia’s tattoo culture, even though female artists still represent only a fraction of the male-centered industry. “People now mark their skin with memories and hope, or as an adornment. A tattoo is no longer considered a prison stamp,” she says, pointing to a striking tattoo of Aeon Flux, the leather-clad animation character, on her left arm. “I love the Aeon story, and its dystopian rebellion. She is my childhood hero.” Lidya’s interest in tattooing was sparked when she interviewed a tattoo artist as a part of her industrial design degree at a university in Bandung. She moved to Bali in 2011 to pursue a career in graphic design, but eventually decided that tattooing was her true passion. Today, she specializes in dot and line work, and refers to her style as “conceptual and light.” She particularly enjoys transforming her clients’ abstract designs into aesthetic form. “Tattooing is very expressive, particularly if you have a personal style and are not just doing it for the money,” she says. “If people can feel that you love what you do, they will trust you and give you more aesthetical freedom.” Lidya opened Be No Square earlier this year, specifically with female clientele in mind. The studio is only open for bookings, with no walk-ins. “It has been created to give female clients a more private and comfortable tattoo experience,” she says. “I am optimistic that more women will get into tattoos as the social perspective towards the tattoo culture gradually shifts from taboo to dedication and style.”