The hand poke tattoo trend may well be sweeping across the West but its origins stretch back centuries to Southeast Asia, when Buddhist monks would have religious texts and symbols inked by grand master monks.
Today, in a world where popular culture has declared tattoos a fashionable accessory once again, hand poke – or bamboo – tattoos are making a comeback, and self-taught artist Flori Green is quickly making a name for herself across Cambodia.
Unlike machine tattoos, the hand poke alternative is carried out with a sharp bamboo stick. For health and safety reasons, Green uses sterile tattoo needles. “A machine cuts the skin and creates a wound,” she says. “Poking each dot takes more time but doesn’t create any cuts, which allows the skin to heal faster. It is definitely less intrusive.”
The 27-year-old French expat, who has lived in Cambodia for the last seven months, tattooed herself for the first time with a gun 18 months ago, sparking her love for inking. After travelling with a Dutchman, she was introduced to bamboo tattoos when he gave Green her first a year ago. During a visit to Phnom Penh in June, Green penned her first poke tattoo on a pal, setting her off on a new career path.
“When I realised I had a good response, I kept going. It became, not so slowly but surely, another passion.”
Frist experimenting with geometric shapes, Green’s abstract pieces were an instant hit, and she honed her skills as more customers requested varying designs.
“I believe every time I tattoo someone I learn something new, and I have the feeling it will never stop,” she says.
Thanks to her lack of heavy machinery, Green is able to fit her kit in her backpack and tattoo customers at their homes, or at hers.
She has also organised a series of tattoo events, including Karma Tattoo Week in Kampot, several “tattoo raffles” at Tusk in Phnom Penh and gigs at Show Box.
For Green, no two days are the same. As an artist, she tries to keep mornings free to paint, answer emails, take bookings and research. Afternoons are devoted to tattooing, with Green carrying out a maximum of two a day.
“I usually paint or draw to empty my mind so I’m ready for the tattoo,” she says. “Sometimes, it takes six hours for a big piece. In that case I dedicate my whole day to my customers, who often become friends by the end of the tattoo.”
Green, who has 10 inkings – six done by herself, says one of her first tattoos of 2017 stands out. Taking six hours to complete, the intricate design stretches across half of her friend’s back. “It’s the biggest one I’ve done so far. Also, it’s one of the first one of the year so I hope it will bring me some luck.”
With supplies being limited in Cambodia, Green sources materials during visits to Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, or call in a favour when travelling friends pass through the Kingdom.
As well as tattooing, painting is another passion.
Find Flori Green on Facebook or email email@example.com.