Tattoo artist Rangi Maika believes people need to start seeing the art of tattooing in a new light.
Rangi and his wife, Skye have run the Art of Tattoo Studio at Carlton since 2015.
A demolition clause in their lease means they may have to move their business.
But they are having trouble finding new premises because real estate agents associate tattoo studios with bikie gangs.
Rangi said the industry has moved on and everyone needs criminal checks before they open a tattoo business. He just wishes the public would realise it.
“We want to stay in the area and have applied for about six premises around Hurstville, Arncliffe and Riverwood,” he said.
“But we have been knocked back every time and some real estate agents don’t give reasons.
“It’s a hard thing with the stigma associated with tattoo shops.
“One real estate agent said no because of the ‘gangs and firebombs.’ Another agent said ‘all I hear about are turf wars’ and refused to take the conversation any further.”
Rangi practices the Maori art of Ta Moko tattooing which he learned in New Zealand. Of Maori background, Rangi grew up in Hurstville and returned to New Zealand to join the army.
“When I left the army I studied carving and Maori art at the New Zealand equivalent of TAFE so I could learn the foundations of Ta Moko.
“Moko is the name of the art and Ta Moko is the art of doing it,” he said.
“It’s a storytelling process because we didn’t have a language, so Ta Moko was based on designs that represented different things and meanings.
“For example, my wife, Skye, asked for a design representing her grandparents.
“In Ta Moko design the negative parts (the space between the design) is dedicated to the spirit world because you don’t see it, and the other part, the design, is dedicated to the living world because you can see it.
“That’s why I love it as an art because it is really intricate.
“Not one Ta Moko is the same because every person is unique.”
Rangi said he has had people travelling from Germany, Hong Kong, France and Korea specifically to get a Ta Moko design.
“I’ve tattooed Australians and Greeks, young and old. The oldest person I tattooed was an 78-year old Maori who wanted to update his tattoo,” he said.
“We advise them so they leave with something unique and personal for them.”
Rangi’s business partner, Will, said tattooing is no longer about getting a gang patch.
“Unfortunately, people still affiliate tattoos with gangs,” Will said. “It has moved way past that, but the stigma is going to stick around for years.
“It’s hard for a business man or woman to dissociate themselves from that stigma.
“We have to break mental thinking. It’s more about opening people’s eyes about what we are really about.”
Skye said it was a very hard process trying to open their shop at Carlton.
“We are governed by the Department of Fair Trading and the police,” she said.
“Every artist has to be fingerprinted and have a criminal check before you can get your licence.
“You don’t get a licence if you have a police record.”
Rangi hopes to open people’s minds to realise the art and knowledge involved in the tattoo industry now.
“I hope people can delve into the depths of what tattooing is,” he said.
“It’s truly about the art now.”