Sugandha Thakran is a renowned Tattoo Artist, a mother of two, and a powerhouse of creative talents. From Air Force to art, her life has taken quite an interesting route.
Read all about it, in her own words.
I am a free thinking, independent woman who has done her best to move with the flow of life and times, and tried to adapt to situations with strength and dignity.
Family and childhood:
I was born into a hard core military family and grew up with men in uniform all around me. I always wanted to be one of them; hence I winded up clearing the entrance exams to both the Army and the Air Force. Throughout my schooling and college years, however, I always harboured a passion for the fine arts. I was and ardent participant in music, dance, theatre, public speaking and of course sketching and painting. I read voraciously, wrote for and edited school and college newspapers. I was also an active sportswoman, long distance running being my forte. Academically I was above average, hovering among the top five students of the class. Among the various competitions and seminars I frequented, Model United Nations Assembly (where I represented Bosnia and Herzegovina), badminton tournaments, swimming, equestrian and biking stand out in my memory.
I was a cadet in the National Cadet Corps and held appointments of responsibility both at school (Head Girl) and in NCC (Under Officer). In college I won trophies in debate, dramatics and music while freelancing as an English speaking and personality development teacher in local business establishments and colleges. On completion of my graduation I worked for a year in the hospitality industry (Taj West End, Bangalore), marketing their business and later heading their quality control department. In the same period, I was recruited from my morning runs by the Karnataka State kayaking team to train for them (on Ulsoor Lake, Bangalore) and went on to represent India in the sport.
I appeared for the Services Selection Board for both, the Indian Army as well as the Indian Air Force in this period and when I received my call letter for the IAF, I quit my job and reported at the Air Force Academy. A year of training was followed by service in the Air Force for eight years at which point, I was forced to put down my papers and leave due to medical reasons.
The passion takes shape:
In the vacuum which followed my tour of duty in the military, I turned to my heretofore shelved passion for art. I painted and sold oil on canvas pieces for a couple of years until I discovered and adopted the new medium of ink on skin. My apprenticeship in Kolkata paved my way for an independent brand of my own, when my husband moved out of the city and I had to move with him. That’s when ‘Phoeninks Tattoos’ came into existence – Phoenix for the rise from ashes of a career which ended too soon, and inks for the medium I worked and played with.
Independent of any other competitor or peer, I worked in tranquil isolation with the advantage of men and women alike patronising my art and business. The quality of my work spoke for itself, the hygienic and comfortable ambiance of my studio served as a welcome refuge to seekers of skin art and my reputation for having a low pain delivery of tattoos attracted customers from not only the city I lived in but neighbouring districts as well.
Aside from tattoos, ‘Phoeninks Tattoos’ also showcases my paintings and sketches and takes on portraits and murals on commission. Being the offsprings of one of the few women in this radical field, who also owns and rides a bike (CBZ) and sports a full sleeve of tattoos, has made my children privy to elite cliques in their social circles. Lol!
The ups and downs along the way.
My husband is a military officer. Everytime he is transferred; moving to a new place, scrapping my business and starting again from scratch, is a nightmare professionally. But I take solace in the fact that all my choices in life have been my very own. I have faced chauvinism, sexual predation, prejudice and sheer physical trauma, but keeping a positive attitude and faith in a Greater Truth have kept me going on fighting and able to keep life in perspective.
Lots of interesting things happen in this field. I have learnt to go with the flow, keep a positive attitude and be philosophical about the tough breaks.
I have had the opportunity to live in different cities all my life, but in terms of my business, I have worked in Kolkata, Bhuj, Agra and Jaisalmer. Kolkata was satisfying in terms of the kind of artwork people sought. Bhuj was a struggle because I had to travel a lot to work. I used to get a number of appointments in a city and then go meet them all. Agra was the busiest, but I was a little tired of doing really cliche work there. Jaisalmer has been a bit slow so far, but I’m learning the lay of the land.
What the future holds…
I am painting a lot more these days because I feel a good tattoo artist should have the feel of all subjects in different media. In the future, I would like to have a studio where I can share and sell my art in all forms. I hope to establish roots some day and allow my potential to flower and fruit. In the meantime there are colours to spread and music to throw to the winds along my travels.
Advise to younger artists…
An artist must stay true to to him/herself. There will be all kinds of pressures and temptations but it is important to remember that tattoo art is an art too.
Thank you Sugandha, for this wonderful insight into your life. You truly are an incredible woman.
Please Note: This interview was conducted online // Interview coordinated and Edited for IWI by Radhika Maira Tabrez