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Tattoo Artistry in Kampala

Mutoni Tattoo

Nassar ‘Shadrack’ Kutesa sits at his tattoo parlour, Shades Tattoo and Body Piercing Clinic, in the Park Royale building on Kampala Road tinkering with his laptop. He says this is a normal day at the parlor, with little activity since it is early in the day. The laid-back artist is well-known for organizing the Hip-Ho Canvas a few years ago that brought together hip-hop musicians from all around the country. He has also helped bring popular musicians like GNL Zamba and Keko to prominence after shaping their talent through his label, Platinum Entertainment.

Shadrack studied business administration at Nakawa Business School but then left the country to spend some time in South Africa. This is where he learnt his tattoo craft. When he returned to Kampala there was no one else practicing tattooing and so, with a little luck, the rest is history and his career took off.

Barbie Tattoo

What keeps you rooted in this business with all the different activities you are known for?

It is part passion and part side income. It pays well so I am not in a hurry to throw it away. And it gives me the freedom to do other things without necessarily moving from here.

Did you have someone to guide you when you started as a tattooist?

No. I started this business on my own with no one to copy. I was the first to start a tattoo parlour in Uganda. I knew of no one else. I got my idea from outside Uganda. But that is in line with everything I do; I go out to where no one has been before – as long as I think an idea is good.

Most times others are impatient. I usually take time to study the situation. That is what I did with this business and 12 years on, I am still in the game and many others have left.

How did you deal with public perception in introducing a whole new culture?

I did not have to work too hard to sell it to the public. What I discovered then was that Ugandans are open to new ideas. Even with the general belief that many people are conservative, this parlour helped debunk that theory because so many people flocked in here once it was broadcast that there was a new tattoo parlour in Kampala. All I did was to wait for them. I did not even have to put adverts in the media.

Another factor that I think helped raise the profile of this culture was the realization by the public that tattoos are harmless. Their role models like David Beckham were covered in tattoos yet they were gentle. It was different from the image of Hollywood that portrayed baddies as men with tattoos.

What kind of people mostly come for tattoos?

We have an 18-and-above policy. Mostly, we have people at that age up to about 35. There is no particular age that I can say frequents the place.

How do your clients choose their designs?

Some of them come with their preconceived designs and we only implement. Others come in and look at the walls (covered in posters of tattoo-covered celebrities) then they choose from there. We do not have any restrictions to the designs; whatever the client wants can be done.

What safety considerations do you take?

All our inks are certified and we are particular about using a needle only once so everything we do here is safe. As long as we know we are within our safety boundaries, we know we are fine.

When do you have your busiest days?

Every day is different. I usually have about five clients on a busy day but we have had days when we have had ten. On such occasions, we have to turn away people or refer them to the next day. On average, we have two clients a day.

How much does it cost to get a tattoo?

The cheapest is about 70,000 UGX up to 500,000 UGX. Some designs are very big and elaborate. However, there are Ugandans who will pay that much for one.

Shades is located in Park Royale adjacent to the Watoto Church building in Kampala. Take the stairs on the side of the building and go to Games 4 U, a videogame business.  Walk through to the back.

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