Last weekend, Belgrade hosted its inaugural International Tattoo Convention at the Mikser House venue near to the centre of the Balkan city. The event enjoyed a huge turn-out across the three days ranging from Indian-ink debutants to purebred devotees looking to increase their portfolio of body art; or those just out to observe the inner workings of tattoo culture, including my blank-skinned self.
I witnessed tattoo artists with names like Sloba from Belgrade and Blue Cock from somewhere in Sweden working eight-hour body art sessions. Pirate's treasure maps were scratched onto bums and a portrait of granny meticulously carved into a young woman's forearm. Ear lobes were inked, as too were many thighs, the latter most definitely the market leader in current tattoo trends. But what struck me was the apparent normality of all that was going on. Maybe it was down to a kind of desensitisation but this particular skin and ink fest carried the matter-of-fact ordinariness similar to that of a stamp collector's convention.
As well as getting a closer look at the social phenomenon of tattooing, the festival organised various seminars, competitions and live entertainment. The convention also played host to world-renowned tattoo artist and practitioner of the traditional and manual 'skin-poke' technique, Mr Yushi Takei who informed me he is set to move from his studio in Amsterdam to London's Soho, this December.
Stealing the show however, was a young Serbian artist called Marko Stamenkovic who did his first tattoo only seven years ago, winning both 'Best of the Convention' and 'Best Black and Grey' awards. Yes Marko is a Serb, but as an invited member of the judging panel (an real honoured!) I can vouch his achievement was born out of pure coincidence rather than a fix-up.
Like the aforementioned Mr Takei, successful tattooists are natural itinerants because the respect they have earned travels before them easing their path. A commercial driver that maybe in itself, with conventions like this only serving to help it along. Stamenkovic told me,
"This is my first competition and I win two awards, the feeling is incredible and I didn't expect to win because competition was very hard. When you do good tattoos, studios hear of your work, and I have a couple of opportunities from studios in Germany so I will be guest artist in those studios."
And on Serbia and the Balkans, Stamenkovic comments:
"We have made a very big progress because artists in the last few years don't do tattoos for the money only but also fight to be the best on the scene, so you can see progress in every artist out there."
I sometimes consider getting my skin inked but what always stops me is finding both an original place on the body, and of course a truly unique image too. The fact/rumour (who knows?) that the late actor, Oliver Reed carried an 'extending' falcon's talon on his you-know-what always amuses me. It stops me in my tracks too. I mean you can't top that, can you? Well maybe next time in Serbia, or Soho, Falmouth or Vegas? We'll see..
Belgrade in pictures:-