In a country where tattoos remain a taboo, a group of artists and enthusiasts strive to make an indelible mark not only on their skin but in their community as well.
The Association of Rodriguez Tattooists, composed of some 20 tattoo artists in Rodriguez town, Rizal province, and Juan Music, an events production, will donate school supplies to at least 200 Kolo-Ka-Koloy children of the Dumagat tribe in the remote village of Puray, also in Rodriguez, on June 22.
The supplies were collected during Tinta Kultura (ink culture), a tattoo competition and fund-raising the group organized on June 8. Participants were asked to pay the P100 fee, as well as to bring notebooks, pad paper and pencils as “entrance fee.”
“We wanted to show people that we are more than what they think of us,” said Juan Music organizer Spyke Santillana, 28. His brother, Speare, 27, is a member of the tattooists’ group.
Santillana said the Dumagat people, who live in the Marikina Watershed, have become close to their hearts after seeing the community’s losses to the habagat (monsoon) last year.
“They are often the first ones hit by floods. If a flood alert is raised in Marikina, Montalban is most likely already under water,” he said. Montalban is the old name of Rodriguez.
Aside from collecting school supplies, Santillana, who sports intricately designed sleeve tattoos on both arms, said the event was also a call for a stop to tattoo discrimination. The group advocates for hygienic and professionally done tattoos.
“There’s still discrimination against tattooed people, especially when we apply for jobs. It is very much felt when you apply in local companies and in the food and beverage business,” he said.
Nowadays, the jobs available for tattooed people are commonly in business outsourcing or in arts, where physical appearance is not necessarily a requirement, Santillana said. In other fields, people with tattoos are thought to be rowdy and violent, commonly associated to drug addiction if not being ex-convicts, he lamented.
But this culinary graduate-turned-freelance event organizer did not regret having been inked—his first—with a Superman figure on his right arm when he was in Grade 3. His father, a tattoo artist, designed his first tattoo as well as those of his three other siblings.
“People have different reasons for getting a tattoo. Some give deeper meanings to it while others just want one for the fad,” Santillana said. But to him, tattoos are a form of art, only that the canvass is the skin—like body accessories that cannot be taken off.
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