Embracing Heritage and The Growing Trend of Kazakh Tattoo Art

Kazakh national symbols are emerging as a fresh trend in tattoo art. Saltanat Kuanova is a tattooist from Almaty with around six years of experience. She is a pioneer in this niche. She started tattooing in the traditional style before it became popular.

Saltanat Kuanova is in the process of applying a sleeve tattoo to a client scaled
Saltanat Küanova is currently applying a sleeve to a customer. Photo credit The Astana Times.

“I developed my style after my third year at work but had created about 15 pieces of artwork with designs long before.” Kuanova, in an interview with this article, said: “I didn’t think much about it at the time. My clients brought the idea up to me.” This was at a time when national identity was beginning to gain in popularity. When I posted my work online, I noticed it was getting more likes and comments. The results elicited various reactions, ranging from admiration to some backlash. All kinds of stores and brands are incorporating it. “I am lucky to have caught on to this trend early.”

Those who have moved to Kazakhstan or are foreign tourists can get traditional Kazakh Tattoos as a souvenir of their visit. 

“I’d say that Kazakhs are about 70% of my clients. Over the past year, I have had several clients from other countries, such as the U.S.A., Spain, France, Israel and Russia. “They want to keep fond memories of their trip to Kazakhstan,” Kuanova explained.

In Tengriasm the sun and the moon symbolize the eternal cycle of life and the ever
Tengriasm believes that the sun, moon and eternal life cycle symbolize the constant change of existence—photo credit: The Astana Times.

Religious individuals often criticize the artist for using symbols that they consider sacred. The designs’ origins are in Tengrism – a pagan philosophy that predated Islam. She loves her culture. She believes tattoos done in the Kazakh style are a way to express herself, earn money and contribute to the development of Kazakh culture.

Zhaniya Mekemtas shares the process of creating tattoo sketches e1685349873433
Zhaniya Mkemtas explains the process of tattoo sketch creation. Photo credit The Astana Times


Zhaniya Mkemtas is a young tattoo artist from Astana who supports this concept. She stated that it is the creativity of individuals driving the national tattoo trend in the country and abroad. She has been designing tattoos in federal style for about a year, taking inspiration from the work of Kazakh artist Abylkhan Kasteev. 

Mekemtas creates simple modules and then complicates and updates them. A tiny tattoo of around three centimetres by four centimetres costs $50. The price can increase depending on the size, complexity and vibrancy of the colours of the tattoo.

“If someone loves minimalism, I add transparency and sharp angles to the design. I can add elements, patterns, or colours if someone wants something bright and bold. Kazakh designs can be more complex, chaotic and encompassing than a specific word. 

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A small, two-toned tattoo of a national design in shading is a sample of Mekemtas’ work—photo credit: The Astana Times.

Mekemtas hopes that ethnic-inspired tattoos are not a trend which will be quickly forgotten, as this is usually the case. Her interest in tattoo design is rooted firmly in the structure and technical execution of the tattoo. She feels a deeper connection with her clients when interacting with them. In her engagement in this work, she creates an emotional connection with the meaning inherent in each design. It brings her closer to her ethnic heritage. 

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