MO GANJI, who is one of the most authentic tattoo artists of Europe, is of Iranian descent and living in Berlin for long years is doing miracles with his single line tattoo style.
Interview: Okan Uçkun
First of all, Hi! I guess you have a busy schedule, so thank you for sparing your time for us.
I would like to make a classic start. I know that you are originially coming from Iran. How did you move to Germany and what has happened afterwards? How did your story as a tattoo artist begin there?
My story starts in 1983 in Teheran. I can’t remember anything. Dad said that, we took the bus to Istanbul in 1985 and then the plane to East Berlin. My first memory is, my Dad showing up in a yellow VW Beetle that you could hear from a mile away. I must have been about 3 years old. We moved to our first place in West Berlin when I was 4. I lived there with my Mum and my younger brother for almost 20 years. My parents got divorced when I was 6.
I think there is no such thing as a tattoo artist. Either you are an artist or you are a tattooist. And I think the dream to be an artist started back then as a child of Iranian immigrants.
I have read in one of your interviews that once you were engaged in another business. Your adventure as a tattoo artist has started at your 30’s. How did you start tattooing?
While I was questioning my own aim of doing this job within myself, I figured out that my answer was money. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong about working for money and a life without money in our system would be quite difficult. But I got to a point in my life where I realized that, the time that I spent working was a waste of lifetime because, the only reason I went to work was money.
It was a simple trade: 240 hours per month for amount X. But, once you realize that time is more worth than gold, it’s hard to ignore that fact that, you are wasting it on someone else’s dream. You can buy all the stuff in the world but, there won’t be any lasting satisfaction. Sadly, the whole model of capitalism is based on: “(…) things that make you happy.”
So I made a conscious decision. I wanted to learn the craft of tattooing because, it was something that fascinated me for a long time. I tried every possible medium there is but, I have never tried human skin. And I knew that, it was a form of art with which I could pay my rent. If you really wanna do something there will be a way. If you don’t, there will be an excuse and the two most painful words in the world are: what if. I believe in the law of cause and effect: Whatever you send into the universe comes back. Today I’m putting my heart and soul into my work and there is nothing I could buy with money that could give me that feeling of lasting satisfaction.
Can you tell a lit bit about the stages through which your designs come into being? What are the themes that inspire you in your designs?
I love Animals. They are the better humans. I kind of lost hope in humanity over the past couple of years. To make this statement short; I think as long as there are people who eat at McDonalds and shop at Primark, there is no hope for humanity.
The reason why I believe animals work great as a tattoo is, because they speak a universal language. When you look at the image of a Lion, it communicates more feelings and attributes than you could describe with a million words. So when I pick my projects, I mainly look for animals, nature etc. things that I can translate into my language of a single line, images that say something without being too loud on the skin.
How did this one-line style as a form of expression come out?
In the beginning I tried many things. One of them was a very very wild version of what my single line technique is today. A doodle of a three headed deer that a customer saw in my folder. He wanted that crazy doodle over the finished design that I had made for him. He came back with friends who wanted the exact same thing.
Thats how it all started.
I have visited Germany several times and I know too many Turks living there. While some of them blend German culture and Turkish culture together in a really nice way and use this biculturalism for Arts rightly; some are stuck between these two cultures. Turkish and Persian cultures have been providing each other’s growth mutually from past to present. How did you find yourself within a culture like German culture? What were the difficulties you encountered and if there is any, what were the goods of it?
Growing up in Germany as a child of Iranian immigrants, you struggle with identity at times. In Germany, you are the kid from Iran. In Iran, you are the kid from Germany. I would say that, I’m more German than majority of Germans just to be accepte, and the typical German virtues of hard work and order helped me a lot to take me where I’m today. On the other hand I was raised by an Iranian woman who, thought me everything about respect and humanity. These two cultures had a big impact on me. German mind, Persian soul. At the end I only benefited from this.
As far as I know, you don’t have any tattoos. I’m sure that your customers find this bizarre. Do you have any funny or interesting experiences about this?
Not really. I mean it sounds weird but I like my body as it is. It might change one day. Who knows?
Who are your favourite tattoo artists?
Okan Akgöl, Pawel Indulski, Frank Carrilho, Sven Rayen, Fredao Oliveira, Retro 23, Susanne König. And Valentin Hirsch, who’s work and friendship I really appreciate.
With an increase in the numbers of social media users, the tattoo culture has become too popular lately and this created new stars. This brings its own goods like; reaching too many people, becoming a tattoo artist that catches the whole world’s attention rather than staying as a local tattooist. However I think that it also has negative effects like, constantly being imitated and the trend according to which, people become more interested in the popularity of the tattoo artist, rather than the tattoos they will get done. What are your opinions about this?
I believe that worrying about these things is a waste of energy. All successful people have something in common: Hard work. What ever it is you do, if you do it everyday with your heart and soul without looking right and left, there will be the point where people can’t ignore what you are doing. No matter, if you are an artist, a chef or a salesman etc. If people start to imitate your work, you did everything right. It is probably the biggest compliment you can get.
And yes there are customers who ask me if I could post their tattoo on my social media channels for them, and I usually say no because, likes and comments are not the reason I started this. I don’t work for Instagram nor Facebook. The only comment and like I’m longing for is, from the one who I tattooed.
I’m thankful for every support and response. And of course we would not be as popular and connected without the power of the internet. But at the end of the day, I would be as satisfied as I was with 100 followers because, I really enjoy what I’m doing. Like I said, worrying about these things draws too much creativity.
Leaving tattoos aside, I know that you enjoy travelling a lot but apart from this what kind of a guy is Moganji? What does he do? What does he enjoy? What are his hobbies and phobies, what are the things that gives him the joy of living?
Lot’s have changed in the past 4 years. I became more self-conscious. Ego is the enemy. I’m “me” now and it feels good. I live the simplicity that you see in my work. I condensed my wardrobe to 30 pieces. I wear the same uniform everyday. Got rid of a ton of material ballast. I enjoy the little thing.
I spend lots of time with cooking. For the past two years I lived vegan, gluten free, sugar free and I fast 16 hours per day. Recently I started a Food Project with my brother and my girlfriend. www.noush.berlin.
There is also an Art Show that I’m planing and a book. And other than that, I’m a quite a boring guy.I mean, hey, I don’t even have tattoos 🙂
It was a very enjoyable interview, thank you once again for your time.
I thank you.
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