Meet the female tattoo artist in Vietnam behind Cô Giao Tattoo Studio. She’s redefining the industry’s negative cultural associations – and carving out a career in what she’s passionate about along the way.
Making a mark as a female tattoo artist is no easy task, especially in countries like Vietnam where the profession has long been viewed with scepticism. The tide, however, is changing – the number of tattoo studios across Vietnam has increased over tenfold in the past decade. One of the few women at the heart of this new wave of tattoo artists is Dinh Thi Ngoc Tram. The founder of Saigon’s Cȏ Giao Tattoo Studio, she talked Hive Life through her journey.
Tram’s creativity started out along traditional lines. “I’ve been passionate about drawing since I was in school. I liked to remember everything through drawing, instead of taking photos,” she explains. “After finishing my studies at the age of 18, I went and got my first tattoo. It was there that I got inspired and thought, ‘That’s the job I want in the future.’”
Getting there for the now 24-year-old was not easy. “To learn to tattoo, I had to buy a machine and practise on artificial skin. I worked two different jobs to nurture my dream,” she reveals. Being a woman in her line of work also presented its own problems. “People were sometimes sceptical about my skills because they had this perception that this was a job for men,” she says, though thankfully that’s something she sees is waning. “Currently, I no longer receive any form of discrimination or confrontation. The tattoo industry is much more gender equal now.” Closer to home, support was also hard to come by. “It was really difficult for me when I first became a tattoo artist. My parents wanted me to follow another career path because at the time, society had bad perceptions about tattoos and the people who have them. I didn’t receive any support and it was very difficult for me to overcome that.”
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Photo credit (left): David Kaye
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Her family’s views reflected a wider opinion. “Before 2012, people in Vietnam had bad notions about tattoos. But, after they became more and more visible and contests started being held, people have become more accepting,” says Tram. Her own involvement in this year’s 5th Vietnam Tattoo Convention along with 2000 other attendees demonstrates the scale of the change afoot. And, like others forging their own take on tattoo culture in Vietnam, Tram is keen to carve out her own path. “Every client I work with gets a tattoo that reflects a part of Vietnam’s unique human culture and historical beauty,” she explains. “Everyone should try to cultivate and continue to change this industry, no matter how difficult it is. Show people that the path you are pursuing is the right one for you. Show them how your heart is burning with passion. The members of this small family will keep expanding. And everyone, including my parents, now thinks differently about the work I’m pursuing and they’re proud of it!”