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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian crooners left out of pocket by tattoo prejudice

Cambodian crooners left out of pocket by tattoo prejudice

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Inked and proud: model and actress Tim Ratha and crooner Van Makara are part of the new generation embracing non-traditional tattoos. PhotoS: Photograph: Seth Kimsoeurn/Phnom Penh Post

Tattoos may be all the rage among western celebrities – and the likes of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp have certainly received a lot of positive press for theirs – but Cambodian singer Van Makara is finding that his decision to get inked has made it harder to earn a dime in the local industry.

The singer recently told the Post that his tattoo has made it difficult for him to secure a contract with any of the country’s many entertainment companies.

According to prevailing values in Cambodia, tattoos are only acceptable if they are employed for the purposes of belief and protection. These kinds of tattoos are traditionally done in Buddhist Pali or Sanskrit language by monks, clergymen or magicians. Their bearers are usually soldiers, policemen, and those in risky lines of work who believe the markings will protect them from enemy bullets or other misfortunes.

Now, the younger generation of Cambodians is showing a growing interest in body art, divorced from the spiritual and magical rites of their predecessors.

Model and actress Tim Ratha said that she is a fan of body art, and only a couple of weeks ago she flew to Thailand in to get her second piece, an ankle tattoo.

“I don’t think that tattoos should be a problem for celebrities in Cambodia,” she said. “I like this kind of body art.”

According to a Phnom Penh tattoo artist, who wished to remain unnamed, young Cambodians usually prefer getting inked on areas of their body that are usually covered by clothes, and usually opt for smaller tattoos than westerners. The artist says that his clients still have to contend with older attitudes, which look down on those with tattoos as ill-mannered, arrogant, aggressive and prone to violence.

Van Makar, 30, has tattoos all over his body, which has posed challenges to the entertainer’s career. After Spark Entertainment, his former agency, closed down five years ago, the revered slow ballad singer has yet to find a new company to sign him on.

Van Makara said that he has been in constant contact with entertainment agencies, only to upset potential agents when arriving on the scene with prominent tattoos visible on his hand and chest.

“I started this career as a singer at a local beer garden,” he said. “Because of my voice and my performance, I got a contract with Spark Entertainment. But after the business went bankrupt, I’ve had nowhere to go.

“People want me but they hate my tattoos. They think that this body art is a gang sign. I believe I have talent like other famous singer but the matter of the tattoo is not likely to go away soon.”

However, the singer does not regret his decision to get inked, despite his reduced prospects.

“Even though some people think that tattoos are bad, I still think that tattoos and my artistic talent are two different things,” he explained. “I believe that tattoos will eventually not be a problem for me and my career. I’ve had body art since I was young, on my chest, arm and leg. It inspired me and I will never erase it.”

Van Makara said he hoped to find an agency that is open-minded enough to recognise that for a musician, talent is a bigger priority than appearance.

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