Ink Is In: Tattoos In The Time Of Covid

Published 3 years ago
Sibusisi Cele InkBoy

South African tattoo artist Sibusiso Cele on how he has been leaving an impression despite the pandemic.

‘Stay home, avoid contact’ is the prevailing motto of our times.

But, as it appears, not for South African freelance tattoo artist Sibusiso Cele, who has actually been receiving more requests for home visits at this time.


Tattoo art is hugely popular in Johannesburg, and since the reopening of tattoo parlors in level 3 of the national lockdown, artists admit to increased interest in people wanting to get themselves inked, some even reportedly wanting to capture the historic pandemic with a tattoo.   

“Personally, the lockdown has worked out in my favor in so many ways,” says Cele.

Known as ‘Inkboy Que’, Cele, now 24, was born in Johannesburg and raised in the Umlazi township in Durban, a coastal city in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, by his aunt who has been his greatest support. His older brother, Simphiwe, taught him to draw from a young age.

“Simphiwe played a huge role in the manifestation of my career. It is unfortunate that Simphiwe is now late and he can’t see my exceptional work thus far. Eventually, I put my all into drawing, to a point where I drew everything and anything in school; it was a passion,” recalls Cele.


“I already had a face tattoo and the corporate world regarded it as being unprofessional to have any visible tattoos.”

In 2013, with a good friend, Cele invested in his first tattoo kit. He traveled locally tattooing but worked mainly from his backroom at home in Umlazi. At the time, his family didn’t consider tattoo art a career, but he persisted.

“In 2015, I was admitted into Durban City College for an engineering course. It was an amazing opportunity to further my studies, however, it was affecting the family financially, also, I already had a face tattoo and the corporate world regarded it as being unprofessional to have any visible tattoos. That was more of a reason not to pursue that career, [so] during the third semester, I dropped out. Above everything at that time, I had invested so much into doing tattoos and the name ‘Inkboy’ was born,” says Cele.

Shortly after that, he moved to Mpumalanga where he had already created a clientele. In 2018, he joined the Soweto Ink family that helped mould his craft until early this year when he officially became an independent tattoo artist and traveled widely across provinces.


But with the coronavirus pandemic and South Africa closing borders and businesses, including tattoo parlors, and the country going into lockdown, Cele had to slow down on the travel. But that didn’t stop him from seeking opportunities locally.

“Firstly, I have financial control, I take my own decisions, and I am comfortable. Normally, I see one or two clients a day because of the traveling and setting up,” he says.

Before the lockdown, Cele mostly traveled to Durban and Mpumalanga, from his home in Johannesburg. His daily travel expenses to clients start at R900. But clients are considerate enough to meet him half-way; besides that, his tattooing rates start at R300, depending on size and detailing.

Cele says getting himself tested for Covid-19 is a big priority for him.


“I do it regularly. Actually, the last time I was tested was a few days ago and because my clients are mostly artists, their profession requires them to get tested too. Besides, I make sure I always wear my PPE for extra safety,” he says.

Since branching out on his own, Cele has been seeing professional growth and has worked with socialites and celebrities in the entertainment industry such as South African musicians ‘DJ Tira’ and Naak MusiQ among others.

Cele says he has learned a lot from the business and his art.

“I wouldn’t say I am making a lot of money but I am getting the hang of being financially stable and it comes with all the responsibility, but it’s a good thing, I’m getting used to this,” he smiles.


Clearly, leaving an impression is his specialty.