Turning trauma into art, Brazilian tattoo artist gives women reason to smile

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SAO PAULO, March 17 (Reuters) - Brazilian women wounded by burns and other physical trauma can now seek out relief from a tattoo artist on a mission to ink over the scars, transforming lingering reminders of pain with beautiful butterflies, flowers and animals.

The studio of Sao Paulo tattoo artist Karlla Mendes has already applied its skill to more than 150 women in the Brazilian megacity with its 'We Are Diamonds' project.

"You can transform someone's life with your art. You can see it in her eyes. Her soul brightens and she glows with happiness," she told Reuters.

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"It's that moment that makes me want to keep going with this project."

Many of the women who seek out Mendes' studio are survivors of domestic violence, car accidents, or illness, determined to regain their self-esteem by re-imagining ugly wounds as a canvas for body art.

To apply for the no-charge tattoos, women must tell their story and send photos via the project's website.

Over nearly ten hours, Liliana Oliveira watched with awe as scars on her right arm disappeared, covered with purple butterflies and delicate flower petals.

"It brought me back to life. I went back to being a woman," she said.

A traumatic car accident years ago left Valeria Festa with scars on her left leg, an always-present reminder of one of the worst moments in her life.

"I often couldn't even look and would ignore it because when you look at something like that it bothers you, it weighs on you because it doesn't belong to you," she said.

The tattoo she now has was "amazing," she said.

For Mendes, the tattoo artist, the project satisfies her own desire to help.

"It's just knowing that I really meant something," she said, "and was able to transform someone's life for the better."

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Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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