By Qistina Hatta
“Everyone gets a tattoo for a reason.”
Tattoo artist Cat Soh turns earnest for a moment during the Q&A session at her small studio in the basement of Excelsior Shopping Centre.
It was an otherwise serious moment during the breezy shoot for episode 2 of Singapore Kindness Movement’s latest video series The Kindness Squad. Titled “The Wan with the Tattoo Artist”, it features Cat with SKM General Secretary Dr William Wan and local influencer the Smiling Afro.
The light-hearted web series focuses on people whose passions take them off the beaten track and how they overcome stereotypes and assumptions others may have of them.
In this episode, Dr Wan and The Smiling Afro meet Cat to find out more about some of the challenges she faces and to get a firsthand feel of how it is to be a tattoo artist themselves!
Up to that point that she turned thoughtful, she had been chatting amicably about her life and how she found her inspiration as a young person.
Cat had studied to be a fashion designer at university but it didn’t feel right for her. She wanted to do something more fulfilling for herself.
She wanted to be able to draw something that is meaningful and important to someone.
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And one way that spoke to her was to bring their thoughts to life on their body to be remembered forever.
Dealing with stares and stereotypes
But the profession comes with its own challenges.
When asked if she gets stereotyped, Cat, who sports multiple tattoos on different parts of her body, admits that she faces judgement “every day”. It’s difficult to pin down, because no one says much to her, but she notices the sidelong stares from the public.
“Sometimes, that’s why when I go out, I cover up my arms so that people won’t stare. I just don’t want unnecessary attention,” she says.
After all, tattoos are often a very personal choice. Yet, many people assume that tattoos are an indication of someone involved with shady, even criminal activities.
While it can get uncomfortable dealing with the stares, Cat doesn’t let it get to her too much.
She knows that what she does is meaningful for others. It’s just art, she says.
“A person shouldn’t be judged by their appearance, but by their heart.”
Cat is proud of every tattoo she has done and the stares she gets does not change how much she cares about every person walking into her shop.
She says: “You stand by yourself and become who you are.”
Creating a safe space
When a customer walks into her studio, the first thing Cat asks is: “Why do you want to get this tattoo?”
Her studio is a private non-judgemental setting for her customers. They come in to get a tattoo but often end up confiding in her as well.
Sometimes, things can get emotional.
All she wants, says Cat, is the best for her customers; for them to be satisfied with the body art and have a safe refuge to express themselves.
A safe space is important because some of her customers would share their reasons for getting a specific tattoo, to commemorate the milestones of their lives — moments of great sadness, like a loved one’s death, or times of great joy, like winning an award.
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It’s not about the money, she adds, but what she can do for people. She has even turned away customers who weren’t sure about their tattoos, since “it’s a commitment”.
But the most important thing to Cat is being able to meet people from all walks of life. She believes that there are lots of things to learn from others.
The physical pain of the needle sometimes bursts open pent-up emotions.
“You need to let it out. Just let it go,” assures Cat.
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Being a mother herself, the youthful looking 32-year-old feels a sense of responsibility for people who come into her shop.
It’s most easily seen in the art she does for her customers — many of whom she now calls friends.
“I think you cannot give many people support, so when you can, you should,” says the artist.