As Egypt's youth picks up on the global trends for tattoos and piercings more and more, the market for niche body modifications - including scarring, branding and dermal punching - is growing too. May Mansour meets Alexandria's professional body-mod artist to find out more.
Geumana Hani is an Egyptian/Italian professional Body Modification artist, and perhaps the only artist of her kind in Egypt. Geumana aka Jen is based in Alexandria and has her own studio where she offers a range of rare services from traditional body piercing to dermal punching which incorporates removing a whole tissue from the ear to create a perfect round circle, ear stretching, branding and scarification and minor cosmetic adjustments. She also does the sometimes controversial stick n’ poke style of tattoos. Now, before we get any further, let me explain. Branding happens by applying heated material, usually metal, to the skin creating an elevated scar, permanently marking the skin as they would starting the 16th century in England or in Colonial America to mark thieves, vagabonds, witches or slaves, and while it was mostly used as a form of punishment in “civilized societies”, it had a significantly higher stance for ancient as well as a few modern tribal cultures where they would practice branding, scaring or cutting in initiation rituals to mark young males as fully grown adult members of their tribes or to show loyalty. Meanwhile scarification involves scratching, etching or cutting to engrave designs or words into the skin permanently and without the use of ink. A very rare practice indeed!
Where are you from Geumana?
I am from Alexandria, where I lived all my life, with roots from Italy and my mum is from El-Sharkia.
Do you have a studio in Alexandria?
Yes I work at a studio called Eg Tattoos located in Roushdy, Syria Street. I also do lots of independent work I’m not really bound to a location but am mostly at the studio.
Do you work with other artists at your studio?
I work along a professional tattoo artist who also does a lot of cosmetic makeup. We also do UV (ultraviolet/invisible) ink, it gives a bit of edge for modest people during nighttime, people who don’t want to sport tattoos 24/7.
How did you get into the whole tattoo and piercing industry?
It all started during high school. I played guitar in a band and I looked up to punk/rock bands all over; Bauhaus, The Cure, Siouxie & The Banshees, Alien Sex Fiend, Sisters of Mercy, Nina Hagen. I had a really sensitive body and couldn’t trust people to pierce me because no one nearly knew what they are doing; at that point I preformed my first labret piercing on myself. I found anatomy and the human body so remarkable that I decided to get professional training and learn all about piercings.
And what got you into branding and scarification specifically?
A huge part of my life involves observing other cultures and the way they represent themselves. Scarification, and branding to be specific, is very tribal, more like a system of belonging somewhere, and is mostly practiced in areas around Africa and Asia. The roots and history of both methods of art are truly mesmerising; people modify their bodies to express surviving a trauma, coming of age, winning at war... Plus the fact that those forms of body modification leave a faded scar makes one feel as though their body created that art on their skin, contrary to ink that feels foreign to the body.
What kind of clients do you get in Alexandria?
I usually get young girls who want nose and belly piercings. Next comes eyebrow piercings and I get a handful of tongue, septum and ear stretching clients as well which is quite interesting because its not exactly popular or visually familiar to people here in Egypt. I also get a small number of branding clients who want a small circle or dots, and recently I got a request for a big piece. There’s an interest in scarification, especially because the end result is very subtle yet customised and looks beautiful.
Any particular favourite tattoo styles that you enjoy crafting?
I love minimal stick n' poke tattoos, and watercolour tattoos where colors are spread along the art work with no definite outlines.
How about piercings?
I love septum piercings, they alter the face in the most beautiful manner and the rings can be hidden if needs be, for work or so, and since septum piercings became a trend lately, lots of brands have made those gorgeous rings what we call septum clickers. I also like eyebrow piercings as they frame the eyes and give an edge to eyebrows that no cosmetics can compete with.
What else do you do for a living Jen?
I’m a videographer and a photographer at an advertising agency called The App Concept. I’m also an aspiring film maker, and one of my short-term goals is a documentary about traditional body modification in Egypt and Upper Egypt specifically where ladies have tattoos, nose rings and scarification designs to associate life events among rural areas.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests in life?
Film photography is one of my favourite hobbies, video art and art installation too are things I immensely enjoy doing away from my job and my piercing studio.
Do you ever come to Cairo for work?
Yes of course, due to the nature of my job as a photographer and videographer, and when I have freelance-piercing appointments as well.
Do you face any challenges in society as a piercer?
I’ve become well-adapted to our society. I had to remove my labret piercing after a while because of the amount of harassments I had to deal with on the street back in 2008, and one of the challenges I hope will end soon is the fact that I have to import all the cool looking rings from abroad as they are not available in Egypt. Otherwise my main challenge with clients is that they seldom have the right mind set to take the proper after care required for their piercings in order to go through proper healing.
What are some of your best and worst moments at the studio?
One of my great moments at the studio was when I preformed four piercings in a row for a grandma, a mother and two sisters, they were tremendously funny, I was overwhelmed with their energy and happy they were flaunting their new piercings around the studio.
One of the worst moments was when a girl took poor care of her navel piercing and her skin ended up rejecting it and at the very late stage of infection she turned to me for a fix. Her skin was severely inflamed and I had to treat the infection and let go of the ring knowing that she won’t take care of it AGAIN because of her “schedule.”
How do you feel about health and safety protocols in the Egyptian tattoo and piercing industry?
There is a prevailing misconception that once you get a piercing or a tattoo done, that’s it. People pay the least amount of attention possible during the aftercare period of their piercings and tattoos, and I want them to know that its up to them to keep it clean and infection-free.
For appointments and enquiries, feel free to contact Geumana -by text- at 01004189752. And check out her Instagram account.