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Head tattoo artist at Ink Saint Tattoos, "Black arm" Burt moved to Grahamstown from Port Elizabeth two weeks before this year’s National Arts Festival. Along with fellow tattoo artists, “John Wayne” and Quinton “Carnage” their mission is to tap into an “untatted market”.
The plain beige walls inside the Fraser Street studio are a remnant of the beauty salon that previously occupied the space.
“This is still a beauty salon!” insists Burt, they are just preaching from a different beauty bible.
Wayne proudly boasts that Ink Saints is one of the few full-body modification studios in the country. If you are brave enough to go beyond tattoos, these boys are brave enough to give you some professional help. Potential procedures include amputation of small body parts (such as the end of a finger), dermal implants (the insertion of body jewellery under the skin), chemical branding (the use of acid to create body designs) and scarification (creating a design on the skin with a scalpel).
Wayne has large dermal implants on his forearm and shows off a large scarification on his calf. He considered amputating the end of one of his fingers but needs it for his tattooing craft. Burt did not indulge in Dutch or drug induced courage for these painful procedures as drugs and alcohol are not allowed in the studio.
Strangely, Burt’s shy, smiling girlfriend is yet to get her first tattoo, which Burt insists will never happen.
“She is one of those indecisive people,” he explains, “I don’t think everyone should get tattoos, you have to be sure of yourself.”
“Some tattoos have meaning, but I like people getting tattoos because they are cool!” says Burt. “I’ve done a chest [tattoo] of an octopus wrestling a bear,” he reminisces, “and a toaster with wings.”
Ink Saints have sworn off tramp stamps, a too common tattoo above the buttocks, but admit that tribal tattoos are what pay the bills.
“I’ve already tattooed one of the lecturers here,” boasts Burt, “We are not just here for the students and we are here for the locals.”
Ink Saints are the second tattoo parlour to come to Grahamstown in the last few years. They have a full working day though unlike their competitor who only works after hours at a residence.
But the tattooists of Ink Saints are not confined to the studio, they are performers. On 6 August there will be a show of a different sort at Slipstream Sports Bar where Wayne will be demonstrating body skewering.
This is a live performance where metal rods will be inserted through his cheeks in front of a live audience. He will also be suspended from hooks that he has inserted into body piercings. Two local women will be helping out by wearing “corsets”.
These are metal rings that are inserted directly into the skin to allow the threading of a ribbon that looks like the back of a corset. These corsets are a perfect example of the popular “beauty is pain” philosophy.
“I think we need to do the human torch!” says Wayne referring to setting Burt alight as part of the show.
“Last time I did that I ended up with third degree burns on my face,” says Burt, politely declining the suggestion.
Small tattoos start at R400 and larger ones are done in two hour sessions at R800 a pop. Few people have the pain threshold to withstand a longer session. As for an amputation, be brave and stop by Burt and the boys
Confronting stereotypes surrounding about “inked” people, Roza Carvalho is tattooed by rival tattoo artist Gary Naude.