Petra went into the Modern Tribe Studio expecting to receive a quick run-through of Monica’s raw craft, but
after hearing her out – she couldn’t help getting inked.
I walked into the studio fully aware that Monica would be busy. In fact, she was stabbing a woman in the chest when I walked in. I should probably mention that Monica Monique Farrugia is a licensed piercer and hand-poking tattoo artist – so she was simply doing her job.
Monica is a 21-year-old bubbly, lively character. She has tattoos all over her arms and legs and piercings across her face and ears. She claims that, “you are your own advertisement, you are your own portfolio.” But, of course, the underlying stigma of tattoos and piercings prevails still. The journey, for Monica, has not been an easy one. There is a price to pay for living such a lifestyle, but even so – when people try to bring her down, she walks away and seeks new friends. Since she communicates with people for a living, Monica forms new relationships every day. “I give my opinion, and if they like it, they come back”. I can only imagine how close you can get to someone after you spend hours stabbing them purposefully.
Monica has never felt fully content in her skin, and she figured that she wasn’t the only person who felt that way. She began her career as a piercer before she was introduced to tattooing. Her motivation stemmed from the need to feel more whole as a person, “I had been piercing for four years before I decided to pursue a career in tattooing. But I felt that there was more I could do. So I got into hand-poking, since it uses needles, and I developed a passion for it.”
The method used by Monica is a more traditional approach than the conventional technique used today. She uses needles to pierce, and tattoos using chopsticks, needles, and tape that holds each needle into place. If you’ve seen Monica’s workspace, you’ve probably noticed a drawer full of chopsticks like the ones found at sushi restaurants. I found this technique odd at first, but it was also quite soothing to not have a loud machine buzzing away by my ear.
Monica’s method is known as hand- poking. The journey of hand-poking has a longer history than you might imagine. It diffused from Africa all the way to Asia. Hand-poking has gone from being a social statement to a fashionable one – it has been adopted by Kings, Queens and anyone wanting to stand out. At some point, it was even used as a way to attract the opposite sex; both by women and men. Think of it as Tinder of the Ages. Each tattoo is constructed entirely from a series of dots that form a pattern, mandala or geometric shape. The process involves a lot of patience and precision as each dot plays a crucial role in the finished design. The beauty of it, is that it results in a tattoo which looks more organic; as though it belonged to the skin. Monica made sure to point out that these tattoos have a short healing time – a maximum of three days. This is obviously faster than the standard four weeks one would need to wait after getting a tattoo in this day and age.
Hand-poking may appear painful in comparison to the ‘piercing gun’ and tattoo machine, but it is Monica’s weapon of choice. The sounds of the machine tends to make her feel paranoid and rushed, whereas she finds hand-poking to be therapeutic. Of course, some people feel more comfortable with the sound of the machine, but in her opinion, it’s more enjoyable to be able to with her clients in comfort.
I would say that this art suits Monica’s personality perfectly – she is extroverted and passionate about everything she does. Monica makes you want to get to know her and understand her philosophy. I proceeded to ask her why she decided to join this particular industry, to which she replied “If you like something and feel like it should be a part of you, then why not make it a part of you?”
Monica’s following has increased vastly over the past few months which has led to a spike in the amount of walk-in clients. Monica is excellent at her job and manages to attract people by simply making conversation on the street. “I like to believe that people visit the studio to see me, rather than to actually get something done.” Touching skin is a very personal job and so, she attempts to make clients feel as comfortable as possible by bonding with them on a more personal level.
In fact, I had the opportunity to witness the ice-breaking process during my visit. A mother walked in with her 19-year-old daughter, who was eager to get her nose pierced. The daughter was visibly nervous. Monica encounters such situations often and tries to make each person in the room feel as comfortable as possible. So when she noticed the discomfort, Monica looked the girl dead in the eye and said, “if your mother beared the pain of childbirth, then you can be strong enough for this”.
What can one expect during a session with Monica? When I decided to get my mandala, I walked into the studio and Monica was sketching the stencil for my tattoo. She then showed me two versions from which I had to pick my preferred mandala. She made sure to fit the stencil perfectly to my shin. She then got out a set of sushi chopsticks and asked me, “purple or blue?” referring to the colour of the tape I prefered she used for her needle. Since I was wearing orange pants with accents of purple flowers, I thought purple would offer me better vibes. She proceeded to carefully wrap the tape around the needle and chopstick and continued setting up, getting ready to stab me. Funnily enough, the process didn’t hurt one bit!
Monica’s job is not one for the faint-hearted. What really surprises me is that Monica actually tattooed her own thigh once, just above the knee. She never wanted to get words tattooed on her but after reflecting on her journey, she figured that she should always look on the brighter side of things. This, in turn, changed her perspective on a few things. “I came into the studio on my day off and spent the entire afternoon stencilling the phrase; ‘I’m a ray of fucking sunshine’.”