SAIRA HUNJAN – BEYOND THE SKIN
After one of our most popular posts reached over 8,000 reblogs and a flurry of questions from curious followers entered our inbox, we got in touch with extraordinary brown girl Saira Hunjan, to get a glimpse into her practice and artistic journey.
We meet at a vegan cafe in Camden Town and settle into our chai teas, a scrumptious cake and deep conversation. Saira wears a soft, white hat. Her beauty is instantly magnetic, with her kind expression, doe-like eyes and a delicate nose-ring that suits her perfectly.
Saira has had an incredibly successful career as a tattoo artist with a long waiting list and celebrity clients, but we wanted glimpse into where her passion is shifting now, from skin to everything.
"My dad was painting and listening to Pink Floyd and that massively influenced my life and the way I am now but it’s not like we weren’t a Sikh family. We still did certain things, but were never pressured."
Saira grew up in a traditional family but was also surrounded by creativity and freedom to pursue her individual interests. It was in her teens that she began to unearth her culture and learn more about her ‘roots’.
"I first went to India when I was 18 or 19 and went back when I was in my twenties, then I started going every year. It did something to me. I got there and thought ‘I’m home’, my feet touched the ground and I was like ‘this is it’."
Her vision pieced together when she came across the tattooed women of the Rabari tribe in Rajasthan and thought, "Holy shit, that’s what I want to look like when I grow up." In this way, Indian culture and art has been integral to Saira’s creative concepts and ideas from tattooing skin to designs on clothing, leather, paper and canvas.
"Everything Indian is so decorative, so ornate, so beautiful. So that influence has always been there in my life really and I’ve always used it in my work. Every second of the day in India is so inspiring for me. It’s really nice to go to these kind of places and see things for myself that I’ve just seen in books. That’s the most powerful thing you know."
Tattooing was Saira’s career but her real passion is for Indian art, design, craft and ornamentation. She also draws inspiration from Jean Paul Gaultier and mentions how she’d love to work with famous, psychedelic Indian designer, Manish Arora (a BROWNGIRL favourite!). In the past year or so, tattooing became too hectic for Saira and she moved out of London into an artistic sanctuary in the countryside.
Tucked away in solitude in her studio, Saira works away on intricate pencil, ink and graphite sketches. Her artistic process is somewhat visceral and mystical.
Inspiration comes to her, through her. Mythical beings, symbols and patterns as well as ornate natural features are themes in Saira’s delicate and precise work. In her home, she mentions, she feels safe, free and surrounded by the energy of female Devis.
She has exciting future plans, having recently lended her vision to many mediums in collaborations with companies such as Ettinger and Orlebar Brown. Despite the fact that London is sometimes too full-on for Saira, she has a couple of works on exhibition at the Pertwee, Anderson & Gold gallery space in Soho.
We’re looking forward to a new exhibition featuring 4ft drawings of Devi’s by Saira is in the process of being created and organised in collaboration with a London gallery.
"That’s the difference from tattooing, now I’m doing what I like for me, not just for someone else."
We close up the conversation a couple of hours later and head out into crazy, bustling Camden.
It was so natural to meet and connect with Saira, which only goes to show that brown girls can connect on a deeper level, wherever they’re from and whatever they do.
We’ll be sure to update you all on progress with her London exhibition but in the meantime catch Saira on her Tumblr 'The Girl with the Golden Needle' where she regularly posts photo updates and inspiration.
- S&A x
Photo credits: Financial Times & John Wellings Photography