Art is a way of seeing our inner world. It’s a form of self-expression, which allows us to express our deepest emotions and thoughts through an aesthetic experience. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Art is the most intense form of individualism the world has ever known.”
Sweney Chan, a Hong Kong visual artist and tattooist known for her intricate line work and elegant sketch designs, agrees with his sentiments. “Much like other art forms such as photography and music, tattoos are marks of individuality that offer a glimpse into the life and unique experiences of the wearer,” says Chan. “The tattooing process is almost like a ritual where I often see myself as a healer with a mission to help an individual feel alive again. From listening to my client's stories to drawing the right design on the skin, every step is replete with intimacy.”
Chan also values the healing power the art form offers the creator. Chan was diagnosed with alopecia, a condition that results in hair loss, a few years ago and had been suffering from emotional stress. Helpless and full of doubt after being unable to find a cure, she turned to art for peace and self-care. “I didn’t know how closely I tied my identity, self-esteem and femininity with my hair until that incident happened,” she says. “The act of creating artworks has been given new meaning beyond a sense of satisfaction since then. I'm now able to find an outlet in art for anxiety and depression.”
In this interview with Tatler, Chan shares more of her story in her own words, as well as her thoughts on the increasing acceptability of tattoos in Asia and the power of ink on female bodies.
Art is my life, a passion within me
I’ve always loved art since a very young age, but I never thought of a career in the tattoo industry. I studied art, fashion and make-up throughout my school years, where I spent the majority of my time appreciating all forms of art to build up my artistic sense.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in International Fashion Business at Nottingham Trent University remotely in 2016, I went on a trip to New Zealand the following year where I befriended a tattoo artist in a cafe. My drawings caught her eye and she started a conversation about tattooing with me. It was the first time I'd heard much about this body art. After a few visits to her studio and learning more about the techniques of tattooing, I decided to try it as a profession. She recommended that I contact a Taiwanese tattoo artist for an apprenticeship, and I was able to secure an opportunity even though the artist was known for being selective with her students.
After three months of learning and practising in Taiwan, I moved back to Hong Kong where I continued to hone my craft for more than a year, before I officially set up a studio in Sai Ying Pun and started my tattoo business in 2018.