Tattoo Art: Story on skin

LONG before the colonizers came to our shores, indigenous peoples living in this archipelago already had a rich and colorful tradition with tattoo art. Tattoo was a symbol of accomplishment, rank and beauty.

When the Spanish colonizers set foot in the Visayas islands, they called it “Las Islas de los Pintados” seeing that men had ink on their chests and heads showing their strength as warriors, and women wore fine ink details on their arms and wrists which were marks of beauty.

But with colonization came drastic changes in cultural practices, including the practice of tattoo art in the Philippines. In recent times, tattoos were associated with criminality, violence and deviant stereotypes.

Photos by Jesse Pizarro Boga

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TATTOO Avenue’s Marlon Rebaya and Bogz Flores

But this small tattoo shop in Davao wants to make a difference..

“We hope that through our shop, we can cause people to shy away from negative connotations of tattoo,” Marlon Rebaya, proprietor of Tattoo Avenue, said.

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THE TATTOO shop looks almost like a doctor’s clinic.

The brightly lit tattoo shop in Tiongko Street that he owns and manages with his partner, tattoo artist Bogz Flores, appears spic and span — almost like a doctor’s clinic.

Jars of chocolate sit on the reception desk that happily welcome clients.

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TATTOO artist Bogz Flores has been witness to how tattoo as an expression has changed over the years.

Tattoo designs are stacked next to a computer table that also has some booklets on visual art. The shop does not exude any sort of characteristic that reminds you of the dark and shady nature of the typical tattooed men portrayed in movies.

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Rebaya said that with his imported quality materials and Flores’ superior tattoo skills, Tattoo Avenue will able to deliver safe tattoo services built around the lighter, more meaningful expression of ink on skin.

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He said that when he opened his shop last year, he intended to capture a certain market: the very people who’ve long wanted to have tattoos but were too apprehensive to give these a go because of prevailing stereotypes.

“These people might have been deprived of their desire for tattoos because of possible discrimination,” he said. “But things have changed.”

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Flores, who is witness to how tattoo has evolved over the years, also said that he’s tattooed people from all walks of life–even a priest!

Both Rebaya and Flores said that clients, new and recurring alike, turn to their services because they have a story to tell. And there is a strong demand that Tattoo Avenue is trying to fill.

During this mid-September interview, Flores said that he’s fully booked for the month and his schedule indicates that he’s not available until the end of October.

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He said that having a tattoo is spurred by personal reasons and it should remain that way. He said that he discourages clients who want a tattoo because of certain peer pressures. “We don’t accommodate minors, too,” he said.

Having yourself inked, he said involves, telling a story that you like to remind yourself of. Tattoos bear certain sentiments.

“Some get memorial tattoos to remind themselves of their loved ones” Rebaya said. “Others get inked to celebrate achievement.”

Tattoo selections range from simple signatures and patterns to full images on the back.

In terms of management, Rebaya said that this kind of service-based business does not give them any room for error. “We have to keep up with expectations of our clients,” he said, mentioning how tattoos are permanent and not just mere products that can be returned or exchanged.

Flores’ background on tattoo root back to his interest in the visual arts since he was 10 years old, drawing on walls and paper. As early as 18, he developed his skill by working with a tattoo artist neighbor who would occasionally commission him for drawn artworks.

Flores, who was born and grew up in Puan in this city studied social work in Holy Cross of Davao College, while doing tattoo gigs on the side and traveling around and outside Mindanao to pursue these.

Flores said that their clients self-identify with pre-defined tattoo designs according to their concept and purpose.

He shared that he’s once had an old woman in her 60s who got a tattoo on her arm: the name of her husband. She had this as an expression of love and dedication on their 40th wedding anniversary. “We gave her a senior citizen discount, of course,” Flores said with glee.

The small shop can cater to about five clients per day, but those who request for bigger images on their body take more time.

“We even had a client whom we worked on for 16 hours straight,” Flores said, noting now their shop has become a destination for art lovers and tattoo curious people: they’ve had foreign clients who go all the way to Davao for ink.

“If you have an inclination in art, sooner or later, you might find yourself inked,” Rebaya said.

“Tattoo is a story on skin,” Flores said. “It’s something that you plan and put a lot of thought into.”

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