We ink what we think
The tattoos people choose often give insight into their personalities. These celebrities tell Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat the meaning behind the ink on their bodies
Sade Giliberti is an actress and TV presenter.
I was 16 years old when I got my first tattoo, the Eye of Ra, on my lower back. The eye is symbolic of the sun and of the sky god Horus, but to me it was more a protection thing – an eye watching over my back.
I have about 12 tattoos, a few on my arms, on my neck, both sides of my ribs and my upper and lower back.
I have an Aum symbol on my front arm. It’s of great spiritual significance to me because it means “inner enlightenment and being one with yourself”. I was going through huge spiritual development and that tattoo reminds me of that time.
The left rib has an ambigram of a swallow and the words “One love”. It is said that when sailors drown, swallows take their souls to heaven.
On my left arm, I have the words “I’d rather bleed with the cuts of love than live without any scars”, taken from a Pink song. It became relevant to me as my left arm has all the scars from when I used to self-harm. I realised, when I was about 23, that these scars are nothing to be ashamed of. Instead of hiding them, I should accept that they are a part of me and a part of my history.
On my right arm I’ve got “Vivere e danzare, danzare e vivere”, which translates “to live is to dance and to dance is to live”.
I got this in Italian as I felt that it sounded better, and plus I got it in Italy.
I have lightning bolts just above my elbow on my right arm. There’s no real meaning behind it. I got it at Kat Von D’s tattoo parlour in LA and it was a spur of the moment thing. It’s by far the smallest, most expensive tattoo I have.
Tamara Dey is the lead singer of Flash Republic.
I swore I’d never get a tattoo, I was petrified of the pain. But I decided to get one in my late 20s. I’m glad I waited. When I got my first tattoo, I was in a great headspace. I was out of a toxic relationship, I was singing, making great music and I had found myself.
My attitude towards tattoos changed when a fashion designer friend came back from New York with two koi fish tats. They were so beautifully done, like art.
I also came across a guy in the music industry who had the word “Vanity” tattooed on his neck. I loved how it said so much about him and how he saw the world.
I express myself through music and in what I wear, and I began to see my body as a palette for self-expression.
Pepe of SA Hardcore Tattoos has pretty much done all of my tats. The first time, I had the words “nothing” put on my left arm and “everything” tattooed on the underside of my right forearm. It sums up the basis of my core belief system. It’s my favourite tat.
I have a lightning bolt behind my left ear for my band Flash Republic. I have the words “When the music’s over turn out the lights”, a quote from my favourite performer, Jim Morrison.
On my right index finger, I have the tattoo “daddy”. And on the inside of my left biceps is a tattoo of an aerial view of a sleeping flamingo, a creature which has always resonated with me. They’re obscure, vulnerable and beautiful birds.
Recently I got a tattoo done with my best friend of 20 years – we have matching infinity symbols on our left wrists. She lives in London. Even though we don’t see each other often, we still manage to finish each other’s sentences.
Isaac Klawansky is a drummer with rock band Shadowclub.
I had always flirted with the idea of getting a tattoo. I remember scribbling on my body with Koki pens from the age of 16. It’s a struggle to get the first one because it’s a big deal. It’s a mental thing.
When I was 26, I saw a Hebrew prayer in a book that spoke to me. Basically, it gives thanks for your soul going up to heaven when you sleep and coming down again when you wake up. I had it inked on my left forearm by SA Hardcore Tattoos in Parkhurst.
After that first tattoo, I wanted more. I have seven altogether – two on the chest, one on my knuckles, one on the right forearm, another on the left forearm, and I have tats on both biceps.
I have the Star of David, which I got in Jerusalem, on my right chest. The two on my biceps are matching tattoos, which are designs I did a few years ago. They go around my arms like bands.
I have a dagger on my right forearm with my girlfriend’s initial and it says “true love”.
I have an eagle spread over one side of my chest, my shoulder and then over on to my back.
The last one is the word “baby” on my right knuckles. It was our three-year anniversary and we were in New York City, so we got it there. Tamara has one that says “daddy” on her knuckles.
The dagger and prayer tattoos are my favourite.
Zinhle Jiyane, known as DJ Zinhle, is considered to be one of the best female house deejays in South Africa.
I got my first set of tattoos on an impulse – nine stars on my spine.
On my shoulder, I have a tattoo of a bass and treble clef that forms a heart – to show my love of music.
On my forearm I have the words “Dance with my father” and a butterfly next to it.
The fourth tattoo is on my right wrist with my big brother’s name, Zakhele. He taught me how to deejay, he’s my manager and is involved in my life. He took on the role of being a father to me when my father passed away.
I always wanted to get a tattoo. I thought about it and looked on the internet for something interesting. One day at a mall, my friend and I decided to do it. It wasn’t as painful as I thought.
Getting the stars was painful, though; that was no joke. I’m sure I cried.
The tattoos of my dad and brother mean the most to me.
Mthokozi Khathi is known as DJ Tira in the entertainment industry.
I was 21 when I had my first tattoo – a sun on my right shoulder. I suppose I was trying to make things brighter for myself.
On my right arm I have a design of my record label, Afro. And I have tattoos of the words music, love and light, powerful words that I live by.
My left arm is covered in tattoos. I can’t tell how many. I have my name written in Chinese and I also have a lot of tribal tattoos.
On my chest, I have tattoos of praying hands.
I decided to get tattoos because I thought they looked cool and funky and it makes you different from most people.
The tattoo with the most meaning for me is the one of my record company.
I am where I am because of my record company. It’s my priority in everything that I do. It’s a symbol of my struggles and achievement.
It was a hard journey for me.
The rest of my tats are just beautiful stuff, art that I think looks good.
I will add to my collection. I’m just waiting for my kids, my two boys, to grow up so that I can feature their faces on my right arm.
Somizi Mhlongo, well-known for his alter ego Madame Gigi, is a singer, actor, choreographer and TV personality.
I never thought I’d get tattoos. I hated them, but my late friend, Lebo Mathosa, changed my mind. She had tattoos on her lower back. She told me that if I didn’t get one, I was a coward. I wanted to prove her wrong.
So I got two small cherries at the back of my shoulder, to say that I’m sweet. I now have 17 tattoos.
The most significant is the tattoo on the left side of my chest. It’s dedicated to Lebo. We had a very close relationship. The Roman numerals on my right arm are the birthdays of my daughter, my late sister, my partner and myself.
I also have a mantra I live by inked on my right forearm: “I am as great as I think I am. I will not hide who or what I am. I shall not accept fear and sorrow. I am what I am. Your hate won’t make me straight.”
I had that tattoo done 15 years ago at a time when so much was going on in my life. I stood up for my sexuality.
I have a barcode with my ID number and my nickname Divo on my right leg. I have the name of my daughter, Bahumi, on my left forearm. I have tattoos of a shield, for protection, and water, for purity, on my biceps.
Near my right shoulder is an eagle. I found out that I had a lot of haters. So I decided that I would be like an eagle and rise above that.
Jacques Moolman is guitarist and lead singer for rock band Shadowclub.
I was 26 when I got my first tattoo of a plectrum or guitar pick. It’s on my right wrist, the hand I use to play the guitar. It means a lot to me because I’m always going to play the guitar.
I have four tattoos on my body. I have a ship done in a sailor style and underneath it is a flag with a banner that says “Out with the charlatans”. That’s a protective symbol and a warning to charlatans, anyone who is not real and is posing as part of the industry.
My third tattoo is on my left shoulder. It’s a famous photo of blues musician John Lee Hooker sitting on the bonnet of a car. He inspired me to get into the blues.
And then I’ve got a tattoo of seraphim, a protective angel, which is from my favourite illustrator, Dan Hillier.
I always wanted to do something with birds and wings. Manuela, my tattoo artist at Wildfire Tattoos, suggested a couple of images. This one stood out for me.
I’m going to add more to my collection. I’m interested in Egyptology.
I’m keen on the jackal, the constellation of Orion, pyramids of Giza and a falcon to represent Horus.
Dilana Robichaux, originally from Johannesburg, is a rock singer, songwriter and performer, who lives in Los Angeles.
Body ink has always intrigued me – it’s an epidermal scrapbook, a collection of moments, memories and events significant to me and my life.
I have about 18 tattoos on my arms, two on my chest, eight on my back, one on my leg, one on my hip, three on my hands, my knuckles, and one on my temple. I don’t have a favourite as such – the closest to that is the Kanji symbols on my spine which read “Survivor”. (Kanji are complex Japanese symbols.)
I got them after a very bad accident on my Harley about eight years ago; I thought it fitting.
My first tattoo was a Celtic design which symbolises life, with its crossing paths having no beginning and no end.
My most recent one was done in Cape Town last month by Dan, from Empire Tattoo. I have LaLa Sisterhood in script on my left arm, to remember my sisters in Langebaan.We spent much of my visit laughing and making music.