Using tattoos to tell my story
by: Gabriela Mc Gowan - 13 June 2017
It’s 8 AM on a cold Sunday morning and I’m laying on a tattoo bed in Turffontein for the umpteenth time at my tattoo artist’s house/tattoo parlour. It’s freezing but I’m wearing shorts because this tattoo will be going on my calf. I’m nervous and excited but that’s usually how I feel before the needle hits my skin. I’ve done this more times than I can count (I just know that it’s over 12) now but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the pain. This time, the design is of a taxi, a Siyaya to be more specific. Weird, I know, but like most of my tattoos, there’s a story behind my latest addition.
Why I got a tattoo of a Siyaya
One afternoon in April 2016 on my way home from the mall, I boarded a taxi and sat in the back row on a seat positioned awkwardly close to the ceiling of the old cab. As I waited for the taxi to fill, two friends got in and sat next to me. One of them was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen in my life. Two weeks later Ashwin was my boyfriend; fast-forward to a year later and we’re still a couple. I wanted to permanently document our whirlwind romance by tattooing the place where we first met. Everyone who knows me well knows the quirky story and knows that the tattoo represents our relationship.
The sleeve and back piece
I’ve been tattooed so many times that it started to form a sleeve on my right arm. All these tattoos are a culmination of separate stories or meanings that people usually ask me to explain. I have the African continent in a tribal design because that’s where I was born and what I am — African.
In 2015 I got a tattoo of a bird flying out of a cage to represent freedom. I’d been stuck in a dead end job for a crazy publicist who I thought was the South African version of The Devil Wears Prada and who treated her staff badly. I’d begun to start crying at work at least once a week, losing my hair and frequently experiencing bouts of severe unhappiness and after much consideration I decided to resign. I felt liberated got the tattoo to mark leaving an unhealthy job. I have a back piece of a tree. The script underneath it says “One day your life will flash before your eyes, make sure it’s worth watching”. I use this as a reminder to live life with no regrets because it could end at any time.
Usually when people see how extensively covered I am in tattoos their first question almost always is “didn’t that hurt” and I almost always respond with “well,duh?” because needles are never not painful. But the tattoos on my feet were by far the most painful.
I decided to get tattoos of flowers on my feet because I thought it would be super cute. I got the sunflower first because it represents happiness and in all the things I do in life I want to be happy. Happiness is my ultimate goal.
I got a tattoo of a lotus because after some research I learnt that they grow in murky waters then rise and bloom into a beautiful flower, much like my life and what I aspire to become. I grew up at the flats in Eldorado Park and it was far from a picturesque upbringing, but I’m working hard at changing my circumstances and making something of myself. When everything that I aspire to be and has come to pass, and life has fully happened, I will look in the mirror, and my body will tell me the story of my life chapter by chapter.