Our motto THE ART THAT GETS UNDER YOUR SKIN is not a marketing trick chosen for no particular reason. It is our mission, our challenge and our purpose at every single moment of our daily activities in the Centre.

Snežana Dubajić

In this interview Snezana is sharing with us her memories of the way she had to pass to reach her goal and make her dream come true.

If you are at the beginning of a journey of your own, you will by all means find Snezana’s story very inspiring and encouraging

At the time when I came up with an idea to open what will be the first legal tattoo studio on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, in 1980s, this trade was a far cry from professionalism – in sanitary, aesthetic and many other terms. This was the case in the whole region, including Belgrade.

I realized that there was not a single place in the city or in the country, for that matter, where I would wish to have a tattoo done myself. There were no studios, no web sites. People worked at home, so the risks were considerable. Also, in contacts with people who already had tattoos, I learned that over 90% of them were dissatisfied. And they had every right to feel so. In those times most people suffered the consequences of their rashness and the poor choice of the tattoo master they had made.

They knew what they wanted, but they had no opportunity to make their wishes come true. They were desperate. That is why it was crucial that someone competent should start to cover and improve so many poorly made tattoos.

It was very unusual that a woman should do this – at the time, there were only two women in this profession in the whole world! It went without saying that tattoos were done only by dangerous guys, bikers, soldiers and women of dubious character. Being both ‘normal’ and tattooed was not an option.Having all this in mind, I came up with an idea to establish the first legal studio of an open type, where I could correct, cover and improve a whole generation of poorly done tattoos. Little did I know that the time would come when tattoos would become a fashion and a trend that would be popular among people of all educational and social backgrounds, walks of life and age groups.

Personally, ever since my youth I have been a tattoo lover and a promoter of female tattooing and tattooing in general. My professional approach came from my work as a painter and a sculptor, where I had an opportunity to work with various materials and tools: I had already used the needle for my marble portraits. But it took some time before I managed to reconcile my two greatest loves – painting and tattoo.

As I had no one to learn from and no business plan whatsoever, I asked myself how I would like to be received, advised and tattooed. The way I ran business, received customers, treated tattoos, in short, the whole concept of my studio, were based on my desire to give Belgrade a professional studio which would introduce world trends to a closed city it used to be.

I set my goals and striving to achieve them I created a unique Sindjel style. It is unique because it integrates our man’s needs, international health standards and a special relationship with the client, where communication and interaction result in a close rapport and a unique and recognizable design.

My major goal was to make the art I understood and loved closer to the everyday life. The only way to do that was to create a new vision of tattoos, to turn poor works into works of art, to make skin my new canvas, to establish such sanitary and health standards so the body art should never again be considered risky and to break taboo that had been surrounding it.

I wanted, through my work, to explain to the uninitiated how absurd it was to disapprove of tattoos. I needed them to understand that the least they should do was to accept tattoos as a completely normal phenomenon. And I did it, didn’t I? My colleagues, at home and abroad, and myself, as one of them, have changed the image of tattooing and it is due to us that the status of this art has undergone a complete transformation. Nowadays tattoing is a subject of scientific research at some universities in the USA. Call it immodesty, but I feel that, by changing popular perception of body art, by making it accepted by our population, by following new trends up to the present moment, I have been a part of its global development, and I am proud of it.

My second goal arose from a desire to fix bad tattoos on dissatisfied and unhappy people. And not only fix them, but make those parts of their bodies different, make their wishes come true, so they could forget about the old and enjoy the new. I understood them completely and it was important to me to witness and participate in those transformations. I wanted to do this legally and in a public place, where people could freely come and go, make up their minds to do it or not, unburde –

ned by the stress and pressure of visiting sordid, private places. I wanted to increase awareness and knowledge about every aspect of this field in Belgrade.

I had knowledge, talent and work ethics. What made me unusual was the fact that I was a ‘normal’ woman in the so far marginalized tattoo world. Soon after its opening in Skadarlija, Sindjel became a very popular place. Many passers-by would drop in just to see the studio or have a word with me. Back then in 1988 we were quite an attraction.

My next goal was the media, because the media were the best and the fastest way to make this new phenomenon get into people’s homes in a most efficient and most effective way. I used every appearance in the media to explain my vision and to open a new door to the new art. The openness and transparency I applied in my business presented an acceptable and pleasant contrast to obscure and murky ways of my predecessors. My simplicity in that strange world drew a great deal of attention. The first one-hour show of the PAKET ARANZMAN – TV show, made by Zoran Lazarevic – Batman, included some so far unseen information and created a great interest. It was re-broadcast several times at the request of the audience.

The same thing happened with the show YU TATTOO, by Zoran Kesic, which received several awards. Numerous appearances on various televisions, as well as texts in all daily newspapers and magazines, contributed to the popularity of tattoos and made my work easier and my vision faster, more efficient and penetrating.

The next thing to do was to educate masters of this art. When I started this job, I was old enough to understand that I was leaving the comfort zone and entering a poorly conceived, undeveloped field, risky in more than one respect and highly disapproved of. But I knew it was in my power to change its bad image and with that in mind I immediately set on to educate new tattoo masters who were coming to me with a desire to do this job.

If you want to see the progress of any project, then everyone involved must make progress. One person is not enough to break a taboo. One person faced with the majority of the population could not justify the theory that taboo created around tattooing was unfound –

ed and that old trivial stories made no sense at all. What was needed was as many qualified masters as possible in Belgrade and wider, so we could justify our mission together.

A few years later I realized that it was necesary to make charts which would depict trend developments of the service. I made programs for the analysis of such trends in all categories.

That way I could track and make public a serious growth of interest for this area in all categories – social, educational etc.

For example, when I first opened my studio, proportional representation of tattoos between men and women was 98.2% of men against 1.8% of women. In the years that followed the percentage of men and women came to be equal. This piece of information was of considerable importance to social scientists, psychologists and the media alike.

I am satisfied with my work, the progress I have made and the development of the studio. I have always found inspiration and based my vision of the new developments on the interactions with the customers. Our conversations, sometimes casual, always gave me something from which new ideas could be created. Our team expanded too and turned into a family business, which gave special warmth to the atmosphere and increased the trust of our customers. Today we have ten masters, several of them coming from Sindjel School.

Our customers wanted me to introduce piercing when it was still unavailable anywhere in Belgrade. I went to Brighton to the most distinguished piercing house Wildcat where I attended a training course and purchased all the equipment necessary for this new craft. Today in the Sindjel Centre piercing has the same status as tattoo.

Our customers have inspired me to take up many other activities and make many new investments, such as temporary tattoos, eyebrow and lips tattoos and the especially demanding and humane scar camouflage tattooing, used to cover scars caused by various interventions, accidents and injuries.

It was the customers who wanted special jewellery, a wider range of piercing jewellery, but also non-piercing jewellery of a unique style. As a result, we are now both wholesaler and retailer.

We have conducted regular training courses of masters of both trades, and as a result many of our students have opened their own studios all over Serbia, as well as in the neighbouring countries. Many masters have been purchasing all the necessary tools in our studio over the years. It was them who first started calling us ‘centre’ and so we realized that, indeed, we had become a body art centre.

A centre demanded a bigger space on a prime location. In our new premises and with a new, extended team we were able to develop further, in more beautiful and creative directions. The years spent in this field made me realize it was high time we invested some energy and creativity into a multimedia installation which would get this phenomenon into the mainstream and the avant-garde art. It would be a perfect way to close a full circle. I also wanted to celebrate the success of an old vision – a vision few people believed in when it was first conceived. Like an icing on the cake.

In a word, I looked back on the results with pleasure, had a new tattoo and set about to spread the body art outside the walls of the studio.

A new stage began focusing on pushing the boundaries by organizing and attending events, writing texts, building up a philosophy, making analyses, participating in debates… Our first important performance was held together with RTS crew, headed by Dunja Lango, at the opening of the Lagum club. It was an attractive fashion show where painted models dressed in leather and lace were driven around on motor bikes. The program also included a ballet choreography made by the Izrailovskis, music and slide exhibition. The Sindjel Centre sent invitations to our regular customers and opened the bar. The official program was followed by a party which lasted till dawn.

Several years later we made a big and very well-attended party at the Underground club. Our cooperation with the photographer Verko Ignjatovic focused on the authenticity of the tattoo lovers in our country. The introductory speech made by the actor Stefan Kapicic, body art presentation on a video beam, art photography, a catalogue specially designed by C1 studio, music, cocktails, celebrities – it turned into a great night. Many media were there too and reported about the event.

In addition, we were a party to all sorts of events. We worked with PUBLIKUM on a performance with painted models on a party organized to celebrate a new calendar. In the Museum of African Art we took part in harkus body painting exhibition which aimed to popularize African culture. The Children’s Belgrade Cultural Centre Pionir invited us to make a presentation to the young people about sterile piercing and tattoos, on the occasion of December 1st – World AIDS Day. We also held various presentations on numerous cosmetic trade shows.

Although we are very busy, we always find time to organize, or at least participate in, events aimed at educating new masters and future customers, or to attend parties that support our public image. Our wish is to keep following and improving new trends, aesthetic as well as health-related ones. That is our style – always being several steps ahead.

We are setting high standards.

A potential client must be informed about everything and has every right to be as demanding as he wishes, while the standard of a good tattoo studio has to be aimed at complete satisfaction of its customers.

Certain activities invisible to an indifferent observer were also of crucial importance for our development. Such are, for example, close, active and constant cooperation with the Institute for Health Protection, Institute of Epidemiology, as well as with laboratories for ink and jewellery testing; appropriate medical waste disposal; careful choice of foreign suppliers; keeping track with innovations every step of the way.

Today, when I look back at the past twenty years and reflect on the way the Sindjel Centre has come so far as well as development of the body art itself, I feel peaceful and contented.

Most people will not understand how much this peace of mind means to me, when they look at me now when all this is simple and normal. But when I think about the past and my first steps in this field, I know that I had to fight many a windmill, invest huge amounts of energy into something no one believed in, fall and rise over and over again, until my vision was defined, justified and accepted, by law as well by people.