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Madame Buraka’s Tattoo Studio Is her Instagram

via Dazed Digital

Madame Buraka is something of an enigma in the tattoo world. If her job wasn’t to permanently mark someone’s skin with her signature style of tattooing then you’d never really know that she was ever here at all. Constantly on the move, her Instagram – where she goes by the moniker MADAME BURAKA (@burakatattooflash) – is her tattoo studio. It’s there that she takes appointments and shares her flash book (the book you liaise with before deciding on a design). Her cult-like following track her as she travels the world and, because of this, she’s able to book up any cancellations within hours.

Born in Latvia and raised in Germany, Buraka began tattooing just three years ago, at 23, when she was studying for a Communication Design degree in Barcelona and staying with a tattooist friend because her loan hadn’t come through. Inspired by some graffiti kids she had met, she began to draw and lent a selection of illustrations to the friend’s flash book before realising the demand for them and deciding to give it a shot herself. The first thing she tattooed was a palm tree and from that day – she says – she hasn’t stopped… and neither have her clients.

When we meet on a rainy day, in London’s Camberwell, Buraka has no visible tattoos, is wrapped in a Nike jacket and has her blonde hair scraped back into a pony tale with gold sunglasses perched on her head.

The first thing you notice about Buraka is her energy. A necessity, perhaps, to keep up with her globe-trotting lifestyle where she’s inked everyone from New York to Italy, London and Paris. She’s also infectious, passionate and opinionated, and we quickly bond over broken nails and fuckboys, and how tattooing can be cathartic – giving me insight into how her mind works, shared below.

You don’t work out of a tattoo studio.

Madame Buraka: No, I am like a travel tattooist – sometimes I am staying three months and sometimes I just get bored and move on.

Where are you doing them now you’re in London?

Madame Buraka: I bring people to my room in a very comfortable, private space and work there in my bubble. I try to make the possibility for people to enter into my world and if you work in a studio you mostly have some other people in your bubble which aren’t belonging to your world.


You said your work is quite personal so I guess having that space is important? 

Madame Buraka: Exactly, but also when I travel sometimes I just set up in a kitchen with my friends or have a gallery space in Paris. Or my friend runs like a kind of screen print company and he has a little back room and I bring people there. I can set up everywhere. For example, in 2014, I went to the MoMA book fair in New York and I met this guy who was curating it and he was like “if you want to do it and do tattoos here, do it”. It is not legal so if the police or security come then you just close up. So I was at the MoMA book fair when I was like 24-years-old and tattooing people and having like 4,000 visitors coming (to the fair) everyday, and I was like how is this to touch the public – it is like public sex, you feel so weird.

You have a lot of pressure on you. 

Madame Buraka: Yeah a lot! I know, with like 4,000 eyes watching me – it was crazy.

When did you start tattooing?

Madame Buraka: I started tattooing very unexpectedly. At 20, I  was studying Communication Design in Germany and I was very bored.

What kind of design?

Madame Buraka: Communication Design basically covers all spectrums of communication, so I would do video, I would do audio, drawings, history – where I put my focus a lot on (what) was like propaganda designs from Switzerland at the time… how you can make drawings that manipulate people.

With the studies, I thought I really don’t feel relate to the people. I am a hard worker and, for me, it was too much computer work and too much sitting on a chair. I had a professor who basically, I don’t know why, but he believed in me and who I am. At one point he was like, “I think you shouldn’t break your studies, you should just do them in another country”.

I decided to go to Barcelona, went there for six months. And when I arrived they forgot to transfer me my student loan so I was mostly meeting people and couch surfing, integrating myself in Spain without money (laughs) And at one point they sent me all my money and I was like, “fuck it, I’m going to get this sick Airbnb place”, just swapped my whole life into an amazing time.

I met these kids who were doing graffiti, and there was one girl and she was doing tattoos at that time. I was just watching how people set up and I was seeing that people would request my drawings because they preferred the line drawings, and both of us were like, maybe I should buy a machine.

You have no formal training – tell us about your first time tattooing someone.

Madame Buraka: I got some pigs’ ears (to practice on) and then the next day I tattooed this guy who came from Sonar Festival, at 11am. I was like “man it is my first tattoo, are you sure?” He had (spent) the whole night partying and came afterward to the studio. I tattooed him and it took me, for a drawing the size of a pound coin, like four hours. Then I tattooed (someone else) the day after and it started to be every day. A guy from Germany came and I tattooed his leg, and the next day I tattooed someone on the ass…everybody came and wanted palm trees… so it was cool because it was an easy drawing to do. I was in Barcelona and I had a lot of time to practice.

So where do you take that inspiration from?

Madame Buraka: In the beginning, it was the graffiti, and at one point it was the influence to bring the character to your writing… I started to draw a female character, which was looking like how the girl looks now – this kind of wavy hair, the three hair lines, she didn’t have cheekbones and stuff like this (now). This came through Instagram, ‘cos (Instagram has) played a big influence on me. (laughs) You look at girls’ profiles, you look how girls are looking like, and you’re like, “oh, cheekbones are the new thing”. So you create something of the idol that people like. But it’s something that you develop because of people… they put these elements together for me.

Do you have people come and say “do what you want”?

Madame Buraka: Yeah! I have kids come who just give me the book and are like, it’s my first time too, I trust you, do it.

One girl who came, I was like, “How old are you?” and she said 17. And I was like, “okay, cool, I think you should wait”. And she was like, “no, I really want it”. At the end of the day it’s illegal, but I think a lot of things that make you alive are illegal in this world. But I know if when I was 17 and someone said to me “no”, and I had already made this trip to go there, I would go out of this tattoo shop, go to the next shop and cover myself in three tattoos just to take a piss, you know what I mean? So I was like, I do it. And you see the ambition in their eyes, you see if someone just wants it ‘cos it’s Instagram, or are really, like “this (tattoo) is going to change my life”.

How many people have you tattooed?

Madame Buraka: I don’t count, but I think already like 2,000 or 3,000.

So there are 3,000 people out there with your –

Madame Buraka: And even more. I have a photographer I’ve liked since I was a child, he follows me on Instagram and his name is Boogie. He does amazing documentary photography. He just travelled to South America and he sent me a lot of pictures of remakes of my tattoos, and was like, “In South America, all these people have a tattoo of yours, it’s such an influence”. Can you imagine how this tribe is ‘cos of virtual things?


How do you feel about that?

Madame Buraka: I’ve met a lot of people who have tattoos made by me, and you have to decide for yourself do you want to be a static or a dynamic mindset? So if you are static you would be judging the people, you would be saying, “fuck you, why are you copying this? Why are you putting it without owning it?” But at the end of the day, I think we are all so different in the ways we are thinking about things. Someone is like “I need the meaning in it”, someone else is like, “it’s just a tattoo… I don’t give a shit”. I can be in this negative little bubble or I can turn it into a positive and be like, “oh wow, I influenced these people so much, they got already drawings before they met me”.

You travel a lot, what cities have you tattooed in?

Madame Buraka: When I started in Barcelona, I did photography as well. I prepared an exhibition in Berlin, but while I was putting the photos up I was seeing the requests for my tattoos were higher than the people who wanted to look at my photography. So I did the exhibition and then went to tattoo my friends in Berlin, and these London people were like, “You should come to the UK and tattoo there”. The first half year was just like a snowball system. Whoever was getting tattooed was bringing me to the new path. So I would meet these kids from London in Berlin who would recommend me to go to London and tattoo in London. And then someone from London would be like, “You should go to New York, there is this guy who would really want to have a tattoo of yours”. So you go to New York, you tattoo there, you come back. And it’s just like the people give you the path where you have to be. So I tattooed in Italy, tattooed in Switzerland, France, Spain.

How do people book in with you?

Madame Buraka: It’s so quick! I can put, for example, that I have a cancellation at two o’clock and have a replacement like that. In London it’s madness. I was saying it to my friend, that it’s madness, because people come and they experience it just once a moment. I’m having these fucking moments every day! I’m basically buzzing on it. It’s like a drug.

Do you have tattoos?

Madame Buraka: (Yes and) I’m starting now to tattoo myself. I reached that level.

What’s that experience like when you’re tattooing yourself?

Madame Buraka: What I say to you is that you have inside pain, and this is the way I express it. And when you tattoo, you are not having pain, it’s like an epilator.

Some people would say that’s like self-harm, in a way, but also it’s almost self-release, in a way.

Madame Buraka: And that was my understanding when I did it. I was like, I don’t need this shit but I just did it, it’s a way of expression.

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