The Lumix was capturing every bit of the tattoo session, from a comfortable distance. They call it “dutdutan,” where art and commerce – pleasure and pain – marry. Then again, there’s a difference between watching someone get tattooed, and being tattooed. Thank goodness I wasn’t seated on that chair.
Back in college, I was enamored by a professor’s lecture-exhibit on tattooing and tooth-staining in the Cordillera. She showed us pictures and videos of how ritual tattooing was done in places where there were no tattoo parlors. A man burned a sharpened stick of guava wood to soot, and the slow and painful process of “dutdutan” took place. The designs were meaningful, although the prospect of getting tattooed with a very simple instrument looked – at least from where we were seated – extremely painful indeed.
That was many years ago: a bunch of soon-to-be – and wannabe – anthropologists have to unlearn cringing and squirming in the name of turning cultural curiosities into scientific discoveries. Yet when I heard the tattoo gun start whirring and buzzing in the background, I felt my knees go weak. Heck, I wasn’t the one getting tattooed, but my good friend, roxstar + photographer extraordinaire, Fritz Tentativa.
So, will this entry come across as a difficult-to-read blog entry that’s a futile attempt at trying to write a magazine article on the Internet? Why, yes, of course.
The tattoo session was scheduled for 3 PM at a place in Panay Avenue. I met up with Fritz and Flickr-ebrity Helga Weber at McDonald’s Quezon Avenue, and we hailed a cab to a nondescript location near National Bookstore. Internet fitness celebrity Noelle de Guzman joined us later for what I assumed to be a day of flashing cameras, schadenfreude, and an awesome tattoo.
Fritz’s chosen design was the Ouroboros: a serpent eating itself, forming a near-perfect circle. It’s basically the badass version of the Circle of Life, and a more awesome representation of Paulo Coelho essays posted on almost every blog and social networking site on the planet. And yes, you can make 1,001 jokes about serpents eating themselves.
The tattooing process was performed by master tattoo artist Dyani Lao. Based on the number of plaques and citations on Dyani’s wall, he must be really good. Nevermind all the Dagtang Lason and Wondergirls tunes playing on this side of Quezon City. After the design was transferred to Fritz’s lubricated back (well it was lubricant), Noelle couldn’t help but do the Sarah Gaugler schtick. They seemed to be enjoying the tattooing process more than the guy in the tattoo chair, and the guy who’s not getting the tattoo.
I’m not an expert on tattooing, but the tradition of “dutdutan” goes that a stick or bone-needle is manually pricked into the skin, piercing by mother-lovin’ piercing, to let a pigment (like ash paste or plant dye) into the pores. In prison, perhaps, tattooing tools are limited to whatever can be salvaged from the yard: toothbrushes, nails, plastic forks, name it. Dyani, though, had all the tools needed to get the job done. For a small tattoo shop, it was also quite clean, and based from Fritz’s lack of pagmumura, Dyani had a very light hand and a keen eye for detail.
… Enough of that, more pain.
Fritz likened the sensation of tattooing to the very first cut (is almost always certainly the deepest) you get from slicing pieces of illustration board from a school project. He was taking it rather bravely, all for the Ouroboros that was taking shape on his back. He was, of course, sweating bullets. I don’t know if it was the heat, the tattoo gun, or Dagtang Lason playing in the background. Yet I think Noelle couldn’t hide her disappointment that after dressing up for it, the QTV crew didn’t come to cover the tattooing session.
SaYaNg p0s3 m0h k0yAh.
The tattooing session lasted for the better part of three hours, they said, since I had to leave for the Noynoy-Mar(Mar) solidarity concert at UP. Yet for all the hard work, sweaty shirts, and LSS of “Bakbakan na To” in the small tattoo parlor, the end result would – should – be definitely awesome. While I would have paid top peso to see anyone get tattooed with guava sticks and bone-needles, this was a definite experience worth reliving… from a comfortable distance.
Fritz has been pining for an awesome tattoo to call his own, and now he has a fancy Ouroboros with a Star of David in the middle. Unlike tattoos from pre-industrial societies, though, his new tattoo can only be explained in his own words. In his time, could probably make his own story – and history – of that badass tattoo now gracing his back.
Guess what: me, Noelle, and Helga want one of our own, too.
POSTSCRIPT: This is the difference between awesome photographers and “awesome writers:” Helga can sense a camera-click from miles away. On the other hand, I have to be caught in the uncompromising pose of drinking something non-alcoholic with one hand behind my back… literally. Heck, I was also a few steps away from a barber shop, and all this “posing” took place on a shop swathed in yellow.
Photos courtesy of Fritz, Noelle, and Helga. The videos were uploaded by Fritz, although I took them with a Lumix ZS3.