Tattoo: Art or self-destruction?

Some are judged because of their tattoos, while others say that tattoo ‘lightens’ up their bodies, especially if you are a stylish person.

Lisa Mutoni got her first tattoo on her right leg when she was 19 years old because it was fashionable, however, she also liked the idea of added colour to her light skin complexion.

The experience, she says, wasn’t as scary as she’d thought, or been told. And this heightened her passion for the art.

The tattoo took about three weeks to heal, however, she says one needs to be extra clean and careful because “you are treating a wound”.

After her first tattoo, she started obsessing about getting more, to the point that she would go for one depending on the mood she was in.

Her second tattoo was on her tummy, the third on her neck and the fourth on her lower back.

When she gave birth to her first born, she also got a tattoo of his name — what she calls “the joy of being a mother”. Last year, she got a tattoo on her hand after giving birth to another boy, bringing the number to six.

“It is like how one craves for a certain food; that is exactly how I crave for tattoos. I am totally getting more ink soon,” she says.

Mutoni says that the only challenge she has faced so far is people judging her because of her tattoos. 

 “They throw you in the “unserious” category, going as far as assuming you are a sex worker because you have a tattoo. What matters is someone’s heart and actions, not appearance,” she says.

She adds that tattoos ‘lighten’ up the body, especially if you are a stylish person.

A tattoo is a form of body art that’s created when ink is inserted, using a needle, into the dermis layer of the skin.

Like Mutoni, many people have embraced the art of tattooing their bodies. Society has welcomed the art, albeit many still frown upon it.

“It is a beautiful form of art and this is why people have fallen in love with it,” says Sarah Tuyishime.

Tuyishime has a tattoo on her lower back, something she says she loves to show off.

“People get tattoos for different reasons, but it is mostly because of love for them. Tattoos also add to one’s appeal,” she says.

Henry Peter Nyiringira, a tattoo artist, says people are embracing the trend for various reasons. Some do it as a sign of love for their partners, and others do it to carry a piece of their past with them, among other reasons.

“Some get names of their loved ones; others get them as some sort of remembrance, like the day they lost a loved one or had a child, and etcetera,” Nyiringira says.

Are tattoos really just forms of self-injury? Gloria Kagisha thinks so, and she says she will never understand why people choose to scar their bodies with tattoos.

She says that to her, tattoos have an unflattering look, and for this reason, people should not get them.

“I will never have my body tattooed because it would ruin my reputation. This is a foreign culture that doesn’t suit Rwandans,” Kagisha says.

Eddie Kabera says he appreciates this art as it is a form of expression for some people, and a sign of beauty for others.

“Whatever the reason, I support them. I believe that someone who has a tattoo looks attractive. Even though I don’t have one, I am not against this form of art,” he says.

Jean Claude Twizerimana, a tattoo artist at Motherland Art in Gacuriro, says many people see tattoos as stylish, and tourists usually get tattoos to remember some of the places they visited.

He says that tattoo artists counsel clients on which tattoo will look good on a specific part of the body, though they do not object when you ask for something specific.

The artist, Twizerimana says, has a one-on-one conversation with the client before getting it done; both parties agree on the terms and conditions given, and then the process begins.

However, some clients do not know the tattoo they want, so there is a book with ideas —pictures or wordings they can use.

He says, “We usually face a challenge of explaining to teenagers that they can’t get tattoos until they are 18. We make sure we know one’s age before doing the tattoo.”

Twizerimana says that a small-sized tattoo takes about one to two hours, however, larger tattoos, especially ones at the back, take up to seven hours and more since they require different shades and colours.

He says that people should get a tattoo done by a tattoo expert, one who studied the art and has permits, to avoid skin complications or irritations.

His tattoos range from Rwf 10,000 to millions; they charge Rwf500 per centimetre squared. The bigger the tattoo, the higher the price, he adds.

Risky business

Like many things, tattoos come with pros and cons. For example, some people argue that a tattoo in one’s 20s won’t look as appealing on a 60-year-old shoulder.

Do kids, many of whom get tattoos as an act of defiance, realise that tattoos are permanent and that even the most advanced tattoo removal lasers can’t erase some of the pigments?

Do people consider that the relationship for which they’re tattooing the name of a loved one may end up being a transient situation? The presence of the ink is a constant reminder, whether or not the love still exists. And what could be worse than tattooing bae’s (a person’s boyfriend or girlfriend) name on your shoulder, only to break up and walk around with the name well-embedded in your skin?

Health risks

Nyiringira says tattoos don’t pose health risks because the instruments used are safe, at least with professional people.

“There are myths about tattoos, for example, some say that one can’t donate blood but this is not true,” he says.

“It is possible to have the tattoo removed, but not in Rwanda. We haven’t yet reached that level yet, but it’s possible to ‘get your skin back’ if you’re no longer happy with the tattoo,” Nyiringira says.

An article published on the Healthline website says that tattoos pose great risks to one’s health.

It indicates that though tattoos are a common form of self-expression, they also damage the skin and can cause complications. Such complications include: allergic reaction to tattoo dyes, which may develop years later; signs of an allergic reaction include a rash at the tattoo site.

Other complications include skin infection, such as a staph infection or tuberculosis, development of nodules of inflamed tissue called granulomas around the tattoo site, formation of keloids, which are overgrowths of scar tissue, blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and tetanus; these can be contracted by using contaminated tattoo needles that haven’t been sanitised.

Other risks associated with tattoos include: swelling around the site, formation of a keloid, and bleeding caused by a damaged blood vessel.


Would you get a tattoo?

I don’t think I would have my body tattooed. Tattoos tend to portray a negative image to other people and I don’t want that impression. They also at times have serious effects, for example, one can fail to get employed.

Penina Umutesi, Administrator


I personally wouldn’t get a tattoo, though I don’t see the harm in getting one, it depends on the reason I guess. There are some who use it as an attachment to their loved ones. Others have tattoos of messages that keep them inspired, and there are those who simply want to have their bodies that way.

Alexander Tushabe, Photographer


I wouldn’t have my body tattooed but I don’t judge those who do. I just don’t understand why a person would have their bodies marked like that.

Ambrose Asiimwe, Intern


I don’t think I can have my body pricked that way, so I wouldn’t go for a tattoo. Many trends have come but I will never understood the love for tattoos.

Joan Nakazibwe, Fashion designer

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