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Women In Tattoos: A New Wave of Filipina Artists Making Their Mark In Ink

Ilona Fiddy. Photographer Kaylin Aiko Mitsumori

With poignant and innovative works of art, these Filipina tattoo artists are transforming tattoo culture.

We’ve all seen Rihanna’s henna-style mandala tattoo decorating her hands (the work of celebrity tattoo artist, Bang Bang), Kate Moss’ minimalist twin sparrows, and Jourdan Dunn’s Egyptian goddess Isis. In the Philippines, the legendary Whang Od Oggay keeps the ancient art of hand-tapped tattoos alive. Although the old guard of female tattoo artists breathed life into the art of tattoos, who are the visionaries redefining tattoo culture?

There are more than a handful of wildly creative artists inking clients as visual art. Take Gigie Santiago, whose blackwork tattoos of kewpie cupids, tattooed mermen, and tropical rib pieces summoned an endless line-up of clients waiting to book five or six months in advance. Alongside Santiago’s fine-line graphics, you’ll also see Ally Pokes’ renowned hand-poke illustrations. From ornate leaves to carefully-crafted mandalas, her custom pieces gained a cult following. Below, we’ve compiled a list of Filipina tattoo artists you should follow (warning: should you decide to get your own body art, there will one-hundred percent be a waiting list).

Annie Concepcion

Photo courtesy of Annie Concepcion

Getting one of Annie Concepcion’s detailed fine-line tattoos entails joining a long waiting list. With subtle details and illustrations rich in complexity, her work ranges from delicate tattoos of flora and fauna to minimalist line drawings.

First Client: Myself. 

Inspiration: I draw my inspiration from nature because of its non precise structure and free flowing nature. The freedom to create my own interpretation makes me enjoy to do them. 

Signature Style: I’m still relatively new in the industry to have my own signature style. But having a deep background in painting, I currently enjoy doing small detailed floral/botanical color realism.

Most Interesting Tattoo Given: For me, all tattoos are interesting. Every person has a different interpretation and story behind each design and that makes it unique. 

Ally Pokes

Photo courtesy of Ally Pokes
Photo courtesy of Ally Pokes

With delicate, gradient handpoke tattoos of cartoon characters, Pokes proves that tattoos can also be cutesy. A go-to for anime characters, some of Pokes’ favorite works include Sanrio’s Gudetama and Spirited Away’s cast.

 First Client: Friends who were willing to “lend” me a bit of skin to practice on when I was starting out.

Inspiration: The natural textures that come from handpoke tattoos. A lot of people still aren’t familiar with handpoke tattooing—or at the very least, are intimidated by it. They usually assume that it will hurt a lot more — when it’s quite the opposite—just because it’s a more physical, slower method of poking the skin. There’s no machine involved, it’s just me and a needle. That said, I get so excited when my customers discover how fun it is for themselves and share my love of handpoke tattoos. Seeing more people take interest in it is really what keeps me going. 

Signature Style: Grainy dotwork gradients 

Most Interesting Tattoo Given: A dagger for a client that wanted to commemorate the time he got mugged — twice.

Kara Gonzales

Photo courtesy of Kara Gonzales

Whether you prefer dainty colored linework tattoos of the feminine form or sparkly, ombre mythical creatures like jackalopes, Kara Gonzales’ playful yet soft pieces keep clients coming back for more. She’s also the top choice for anyone who wants to commemorate loved ones — humans, pets, or memories — as delicate imagery. If you’re up for it, join her “santan project,” where she tattoos santan flowers on “anyone who’ll agree.”

First Client: Before I tattooed anyone else, I practiced on myself. But my first client was a [former] co-worker; she was the only one brave enough to agree to it. I started tattooing as catharsis after I was diagnosed with clinical depression and having had major depressive disorder. In retrospect, that first one definitely could have been better, but it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Inspiration: I draw inspiration from practically everywhere, but I’m constantly inspired by nature and memories. I like my tattoos to convey not only images, but also feelings and emotions. Most clients like to get tattoos that are symbolic to them or that are reminders of events and people in their lives. Being able to relate to and draw from my own experiences allows me to create better pieces that resonate with my clients.

I think my heaviest influences are @moganji and @mambotattooer, but I’ve recently been really into the works of @agataris and @fksegismundo. I also really admire what a lot of Korean tattooists are doing; they create incredible work.

Signature Style: Most of my current work is characterized by simple, minimalist linework with some color pops. I like introducing a pop of color into most of my pieces to bring a fun—and sometimes surprising—element into a tattoo. [But] I’m still easing my way into a signature style and I’d still like to give myself some wiggle room when it comes to this. There are still so many tattoo styles I’d like to try out.

I also have a little project these days where I tattoo santan flowers on anyone who will agree. I find that most Filipino kids of my generation have their own “santan memories” and I think it’s such a fun thing to throw into the mix of anyone’s tattoo collection.

Most Interesting Tattoo Given: One of the most interesting tattoos I’ve done is actually a tattoo enhancement: The client asked me to add to an existing tattoo she had of a man (the great Gatsby)’s head, but she wanted to put him in drag. We pulled inspiration from Sasha Velour, Basquiat, Keith Harring and Roy Lichtenstein. It was a lot of fun to do.

Gigie Santiago

Photo courtesy of Gigie Santiago
Photo courtesy of Gigie Santiago

With the Kewpie doll as her signature tattoo (ranging from a dracula kewpie to cupid kewpie), Gigie Santiago’s work lies heavily in bold, blackwork tattoos inspired by vintage icons. With a focus on impactful pieces, the acclaimed tattoo artist makes works of art that look as if they belong in storybooks with their own distinct narratives.

First Client: The first ever person I tattooed is my husband, Cyrus. But my first ever paying client is my high school friend Eipp.

Inspiration: I take a lot of inspiration from science books, vintage illustrations and music. I really like how the drawings are made from the books since it’s the closest to my tattooing style. I enjoy adding in the details and the challenge of tattooing it in just black ink. 

Signature Style: I do fineline illustrative blackwork tattoos. I use a lot of lines and stipple shading on most of my pieces. 

Most Interesting Tattoo Given: I think most of the design requests I get are interesting. Some have really deep meanings but I also love the random fun tattoos just the same.  

Ilona Fiddy

Photo courtesy of Ilona Fiddy
Photo courtesy of Ilona Fiddy

By reclaiming Filipino tattooing traditions in her works, Toronto-based Ilona Fiddy explores identity and the strength of community. She approaches and promotes hand-poked tattoos with intention, treating the art form as an ancient and loving act. From tattoos drawn from ancestral motifs from the Philippines to intricate chest adornments, Fiddy plays tribute to her Philippine heritage.

First Client: My friend Jo Maramba who first taught me how to tattoo. We did a little balisong on his arm.

Inspiration: Drawing from precolonial tattooing traditions as well as all eras and mediums of Philippine aesthetics, filtered through my own design sensibilities to serve as a conduit for the personal narrative of each client. I am inspired by every individual who chooses to hold ceremony together, tattooing an expression of their history and intentions, acknowledging their healing, celebrating their evolution. I am inspired by our ancestors resistance, and its relevance to contemporary movements of reclamation and abolition.

Signature Style: Over the course of my tattooing career, my “signature style” has been widely appropriated and whitewashed, so I’m not sure how to describe it anymore. I can only hope my practice speaks for itself and finds who its supposed to. I try to create something unique and beautiful bespoke to each person. Even when using the same limited resources available for “Filipino tattoos,” we don’t see their expression as finite or codified, nor copy from other practitioners, in order to capture the transcendent principles at the heart of these traditions.

Most Interesting Tattoo Given: Every piece keeps me curious and learning something new. 

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