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Tattooist Hannah Snowdon on building an eco-sustainable community in Nepal

Hannah Snowdon has long had a reputation as one of the UK’s premier tattooists. Her brand, Black Stabbath, saw her living her art every day, creating and sharing it in ink. But Snowdon has found a higher purpose, having packed up and moved her life to the other side of the world to support a developing community. We talked to Hannah about her journey to Nepal, her work there, her future in art and more.

You made the move to Nepal recently after living in the UK as a tattooist. What prompted the transition?

I’ve been tattooing for 10 years now, and I’m super aware of my insane privilege, in the sense that I’ve always been financially stable and I have been able to travel somewhat and see the world. It’s cliche I know, but when you get out into the world and see people living in totally different ways, it of course shifts your perspective after some time. It made me feel more and more uncomfortable, coming back to the west after being in places that just felt so much more ‘free’. Being out in the nature in less ‘developed’ countries, I quickly realised that there are still people living today without having a total dependency on an external system. Money corrupts. I have had over 10 years of experience, regarding that. I’ve lost friends, been alienated and completely disrespected the last years and I think the root cause of a lot of my failed friendships are connected to jealousy, and ultimately money, power & influence. Only now I’m older I see with more clarity, how all these things change the attitudes of almost everyone. Making a transition into self sustainability (which ultimately isn’t impossible for most of us) removes that reliance in anything external. It is also very humbling, going back to the nature. Symbiotically, once your sole concern becomes taking care of yourself and those you love, a lot of the egoistic issues we have as humans also start to unravel. These all arise from us living in a time that isn’t designed to nurture our spiritual and emotional growth as human beings. We become whatever we lend our attention to. The physical and emotional food/fuel that we consume; with TV, music and corrupted food products, as well as the unhealthy ways we interact with each other as human beings, all stand in the way of true progress for us as individuals and as a collective. Dependence and enslavement into our current monetary system, makes people crazy. I can understand why too, because it is totally crazy. We can all access the knowledge of how to grow our own food, house and clothe ourselves. 

I’ve basically been given a decent platform, so I feel it only fair at this point, that I share this transition into living off grid. I want this knowledge for my own benefit before anything else, because I know that it’s totally pointless trying to share anything if you haven’t fully embodied it yourself first. I’m all about showing and proving, at this point in my life. We can all talk a big game, but I’m so tired to hear people talk about the change they want to see. Just putting all that energy into embodying that which we admire, that’s where I’m at right now. 

Sharing whatever I encounter with transparency and an open heart. Now I’m living off land in Pokhara, Nepal, in the nature. It is a 5 minute walk away from this big Ayurvedic Living and Learning Centre, that I’m building in collaboration with a beautiful Nepali family here. They have been working on this idea of building a community project here for 7 years. The structures are beautiful, mammoth and almost complete. It sleeps just under 100, & we intend to support the local community and organisations with what we create here, as well as the people that are supporting us internationally. 

At this point it’s just about finishing off the space and bringing all the magick into it, using the tools we have been given, and the blessing of a large following online. 

Are you practicing tattooing in Nepal?

I will be yes, but I’ve had a break from it the last couple of months! I’ve still done the odd one here and there, but after tattooing for money for 10 years, I prefer to do it now for trade. There’s loads of different ways you can keep an energetic exchange balanced, and money doesn’t have to be the only way. You can actually get way more creative, living this way. 

Tell us about the self-sustainable community that you’re building over there.

So I was living out of a tent in a cattle shed for a couple of months, with a little fire pit in the centre of the room to cook on. It’s now super cute, but super DIY (laughs)! My first ever experience and experiment with natural building techniques. We covered the stone walls of the cattle shed with cow shit and clay, built it up a little with the abundance of bamboo we have available to us, and after a lick of paint, the whole thing really started to come together. I’ve lived in stunning properties and boujee apartments, and this cow shed in the jungle, away from any phone/ WiFi connection – is by far the best place I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping. I’m rocked to sleep by storms at night, there is fresh spring water running through our land 24 hours a day, & I am nestled back in the valley with the monkeys and occasional leopard. On the daily, my sole concerns are how to nurture myself and the land beneath my feet. I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel beyond blessed to be able to have the opportunity to try. 

Currently, largely due to the global situation, there are 3 or 4 people sleeping on the land most nights. International family and friends who have been displaced, who are running out of cash for guesthouses etc; it made sense that we all be in one place together, thriving amidst the chaos! I tend to cook for 6 or so people every night. It’s great training. 

We don’t really have anything completed here yet in terms of structures up on the smaller area of land I’m living on, but we have all the blueprints & the stonework finished for the first structure on the land. Our good friends Tieedi Forest Garden run a zero waste eco community in Darjeeling. They helped us figure out what materials we can utilise in what ways, to create some beautiful naturally built, cost effective, traditionally inspired structures for guest residences and workshops. Up on the living example side of the land, where I stay, it will be rather more private, but we will have it as somewhere people can come up and visit from the school, to do workshops in the gardens and polytunnels etc. We build a clay oven and finish off a small pool structure next week, and the best part is, we have an abundance of all the natural materials we need on the land. We don’t even pay any labour costs, because there’s at least 10 able bodied, extended community members here who are beyond happy to chip in, help build and enjoy creating. I provide the home cooked foods, tea from the garden, emotional support & coordination!

Do you miss anything about your life in the UK? How do you feel about the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Honestly, no. I can’t wait for mum to get here, & for all my soul family back home to come visit. My chapter in the wild west feels over for now, or I wouldn’t have brought my little furry boy to the other side of the world! Aside from that, even on the hardest days here, & even when the whole project has felt like it was gonna slide on down the drain, I have maintained full faith in that I am here for a much bigger purpose. Also, I’ve been consistently reminded that perseverance furthers. Hope is here for all who try! 

I’m not sure at all to be honest regarding the situation in the UK. I couldn’t comment. I haven’t watched TV for a few years now. My mum works at the hospital and has for 20 years, so she keeps me somewhat posted. But my only real connection to the outside world is exchanging a few messages on WhatsApp every few days with loved ones & using Instagram a handful of times a week (when I’m in town and have a WiFi connection!) Other than that, I’m in a total self admitted bubble. I recently recorded a short video with my family here, touching upon the current global situation and how differently it has affected those living more rurally. Picking your dinner from your garden every morning is not only incredibly satisfying, but also very reassuring when the shops are all forcibly closed. 

You have this incredible outlook on life, mindfulness and wellness. Can you articulate what shapes your view of the world?

Thank you! I’d say experience has shaped my view of the world. For all of them, I am eternally grateful. Experiences that cover the entire spectrum, dark to light and everything in between. Rising higher in love throughout each and every one of them is my only aim. 

What advice would you give to someone struggling to see optimism and positivity the same way that you do?

Change your habits and watch your world change. For me, it’s all about making minor realignments every day. After a couple of years of that, you look around and find yourself somewhere completely different. I’m still doing it, each and every day. Although I’m in total love and trust, with this constant state of transition that I’m currently in, I’m also in acute awareness that the journey doesn’t end. That’s what’s so cool about being a human, that we have the ability to evolve. Be the alchemist! Where your attention goes, energy flows. So I’d say, start to concern yourself and your time with what actually elevates and inspires you. Rather than spending so much time controlled by fear, as scary as our current reality can appear! 

You will be subject to persecution, if you follow your truth. So it does take courage. But such persecution is only natural, in a world that has basically been conditioned to fear, and be constantly distracted from our current present reality. 

What drew you into the world of tattooing to start? 

The freedom of being able to do something I loved everyday. The ability to wake up every morning excited, rather than in dread, about what I could create that day. 

Your art is obviously really important to you – what other forms does it take bar of course your great talent as a tattooist? 

I also have an online business that over the years, I’ve released various clothing projects and other artworks over. I utilised the online store to raise funds for charitable projects predominantly. Raksha Nepal, a small grassroots organisation in Nepal here, is an organisation I’ve strived to support financially over the last 7 years. The women and children here were one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Nepal in the first place, & since visiting this country I fell in love. I knew I could make myself really happy by living in the nature here, and I figured I could help a lot more with a bigger project for the community too, if I was living here physically. 

Now that you’ve lived in different countries and reached this stage in your life, what is most important to you?

Honest and open connections with people. 

What’s next for you?

I never really know, but I’m lending all my energy and attention right now to building up the living example that I’m living on here, & gaining the knowledge necessary to become all that I admire most. 

I’m gonna contribute to projecting this beautiful community school project to new heights also, alongside my Nepali family. Thanks for asking xxx 

You can support Hannah’s community in Nepal by checking out her online store, signing up for her Patreon or donating to Raksha Nepal.