I grew up in what used to be a refugee colony for Bangladeshi immigrants who were forced to leave their homeland during the ill-planned and poorly executed partition of India,” says Basu, reminiscing about where it all began. “There was no pride attached to my address and I was made aware of that from a very early age. To put things into perspective, what my father earned in a whole month working 10 to 12 hours a day is less than what I charge for an hour of my work today.”

“When you grow up knowing that, it is impossible to not let that impact your view of the world and the various injustices and inequalities that plague modern society,” he continues. “You realise that there are people, a whole generation of beings, that silently work behind the scenes, never once voicing their discomfort at the luxuries enjoyed by the privileged. You learn to respect their silence and you learn to draw strength from that.” A strength that has taken Basu exceptionally far in a relatively short period of time. Since we last spoke in 2012, Basu has moved continents, created a new tattoo aesthetic he’s calling bongo style, and even changed his name. “Obi is the phonetic shortening of my real name, Abhinandan,” he explains. “When pronounced in my mother tongue, Bengali, my name sounds more like Obhinondon and my friends have always called me Obhi. Obi comes from that-it’s short and easy to remember for my clients and customers who are not Indians!” he laughs.

It was March 2016 when Basu decided to pack up his tattoo gear (and his entire life) and move from India to Germany, settling in Mannheim. “It was not an easy decision to make, but one that had to be taken because it was necessary for the growth and progression of my work,” he admits. “I had been visiting Mannheim as a guest artist for about two years prior to that and since my work was quite well received by the people in Mannheim and the studio was looking for a resident artist, it all just fell into place. It was a bit of a hassle to get the work visa, but the good people at the studio helped me and the fact that I was featured in The World Atlas of Tattoo also helped!”

Basu made it into The World Atlas of Tattoo, a 400-page book published by the prestigious Yale University Press and described as a “comprehensive study of the vast array of styles and most significant practitioners of tattoo,” in 2015 after being recommended by a fellow artist. “It would not be enough to say that I am very honoured to be included in this book along with the illustrious list of artists who have been featured in it,” he says. “It was a very surreal experience, but also one that taught me to keep my head down and push harder with my work.”

Today, Basu is working hard at TRUST, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Owned by Marcus Strohner, “a very well known and respected individual in the piercing and body mod scene,” it began as a body modification studio. A tattoo component was added about five years ago and is run by none other than Strohner’s wife, Isabell.

“Since the shop has been around a long time and at the same location, it has developed a very good reputation for itself,” says Basu. It’s also extremely diverse. “Right now, I am the only resident tattoo artist in the shop, but we have guest artists visiting from Thailand, Nepal, Australia, India and other parts of the Europe and USA all year round.”

“Being in Germany and working in a busy studio has helped me understand the value of my time and my work,” he adds. “It has made me streamline my workflow. Lately, I have been doing almost all of my designing digitally and it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and I am quite enjoying the process.” The di.erences between tattooing in India and Germany have also had an e.ect on the way Basu works. As he explains, “the average German client is more knowledgeable about tattoos than their Indian counterpart. They do their research [but] are quite open to suggestions and new ideas and that really helps the artist come up with something new and exciting. That’s primarily the reason why most of the new groundbreaking styles of tattooing have originated from this part of the world in recent years.”

That being said, the tattoo scene in India is changing and “growing at a rapid pace thanks to the Internet and globalisation. Indian artists are catching up to their Western counterparts rather fast” in part thanks to artists like Basu who tries “to pass on knowledge and information whenever I can to my friends tattooing in India.”

Making Moves
Basu’s move from East to West has reaped interesting results. Not only has it influenced his overall work process and introduced him to a different type of client, but it has also inspired him in the development of his very own style. Dubbed bongo style, the unique aesthetic Basu has created and continues to perfect is an homage to his roots and the country he left behind.

“’Bongo’ means ‘homeland’ in my language and that’s why I chose the name for this particular style because that is exactly what it is!” he reveals. “Bongo style is primarily a mix of various indigenous and folk art forms from and around Bengal and is heavily inspired by alpana, patachitra and henna art.” “These designs are the closest to my heart,” he elaborates. “My mother used to draw alpanas, forms of mandala designs, on the floor with a mixture of water and ground rice during religious ceremonies and also during harvest seasons.” Pulling elements from his heritage, Basu then turns to linework, blackwork, and dotwork to bring his designs to life on skin as “these techniques complement the motifs.”

If you’re wondering how bongo style first came to life, it was all thanks to a tattoo convention in Phuket, Thailand. “I had been drawing this design of a fish,” remembers Basu. “It was not complete at the time but for some reason found itself in my book of designs. On the third and final day of the convention, an American lady who was living in Thailand and was extensively tattooed by some very good artists came to my booth and came across it. She loved the design and wanted it tattooed. I was quite surprised because I wasn’t really expecting anyone to like it. I did tattoo it on her and that’s when I realised that this might have some potential and that I should work more on developing it. And I did.” “Continuously refining it and adding more elements to the existing set of designs,” Basu is now focused on pushing the style forward, translating it to larger designs-“I’ve already started a backpiece”-and even “looking to incorporate some elements with colour.” As for it becoming an internationally recognised style adopted by artists around the world, Basu admits that, “for now, I would like it to be exclusively mine, but only because I have not done enough with it yet. I have not explored its full potential, but I am hopeful. Eventually, I would definitely pass it on to whoever would be interested in it. I do hope more people open up to it and I can fulfil my vision of it.”

A Decade Of Ink
This December will mark Basu’s 10-year anniversary as a tattoo artist. “I guess it’s one of those milestones after which it becomes okay to sound like a bit of a wisecrack and casually throw around sentences that start with ‘Back in the day,’” he laughs. “Tattooing has changed in the last 10 years and it’s not a stretch of the imagination to claim that this might be our Renaissance,” he continues. “This is probably the best time to be tattooing and the number of talented artists and the level of artistry is so mind-boggling and humbling. It seems like every day there is some new artist who is just destroying our ideas of what a great tattoo is.”

“Of course, not all of it is good tattooing. Amidst all this chaos and shimmer what is getting left behind in the shadows is the craftsmanship and knowledge that one needs to put down a solid, long-lasting tattoo.” Its this search of knowledge that has pushed Basu to travel the globe and work in as many di.erent environments as possible. “I have not thought about settling down,” he declares. “If a person stays at one place for very long, they develop a sense of familiarity. Familiarity makes one complacent and selfabsorbed and that is not a good thing for an artist. Familiarity hinders progression and that is unacceptable for me. Also, how can I truly decide where I would like to settle down if I have not seen all of my options?” In addition to exploring more of the world in the months and years to come, Basu plans to start working on more large-scale pieces- “specially in the bongo style and geometric style”-aiming to get better with every single appointment. “Travelling and seeing brilliant masters at work at various conventions has shown me exactly what it takes to be good, so I am trying to listen to my elders. I’m keeping my head down and drawing, and trying to do solid tattoos and be as creative as I can be.” No matter where the future may take him, however, Basu will always be “the boy from Kolkata trying to find his place in the madness of this world.”