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Is the Tattoo Community Part of Cebu’s Creative Industry?

The creative industry of Cebu City is home to a variety of distinct communities. From visual art to music, my beloved hometown, to the best of its abilities, nurtures artists, creators, and craftsmen who make the creative landscape an exciting one. Yet, amidst this bustling and diverse scene, there is one community that seems detached from it all—the tattoo community.

Savage Ink Tattoo Competition 2019

While tattoos are pretty much accepted in mainstream society now—yup, tattoos may not be as “badass” anymore—there is little representation of this sector in the broader playing field. It's largely left to the initiative of tattoo artists themselves to elevate their craft. Meanwhile, Cebu has numerous art and design events that are oblivious to the tattoo community. 

Why aren’t tattoo artists part of the hyper-local dialogue of these other creatives who drink and exchange ideas with each other? There is no rubbing of the shoulders for them. Is it because the tattoo artist is often perceived to be a service-oriented craftsman, rather than the typical “struggling creative” who does their best to make ends meet? This perception may pigeonhole them as skilled workers, excluding them entirely as members of the creative community. However, they have elements in their job that are also in other creative jobs. They have deadlines (which they can actually move sometimes); design briefs (that they can manipulate according to their style); clients to please (and perhaps argue with if the client is being a stubborn jerk); and painful backs (yeah, no difference here). 

Savage Ink International Tattoo Convention 2023

Another factor to the disconnect could be the nature of the tattoo industry and the literal space that tattoo artists do their work in. Unlike art galleries or music venues where networking and collaboration are encouraged, tattoo studios are more private and client-focused. Also, they work long unholy hours, so there’s really not much to do after, except eat, sleep, draw, and repeat. It’s a never-ending cycle that’s also reflective of their intense commitment to their craft. They struggle with showing up to events and barely have the time or headspace to go on dates with their wives. (It’s okay.) Tattoo artists can be an obsessive bunch. It’s probably this single-minded obsession that isolates them from the hullabaloo of the so-called creative lifestyle. They’re kinda like the weird cousin of your friend whom nobody talks to because you’re not even sure they would respond.

On the other hand, perhaps the tattoo community remains unbothered with no desire for external “validation” because they are self-sufficient and thriving within their own domain. The Filipino tattoo artist frequently makes waves in international tattoo conventions, demanding the attention of some of the world’s most respected masters of the craft. While not often recognized, their cultural and economic contributions are unquestionably significant.

Savage Ink International Tattoo Convention 2023

As a tattoo collector who has worked with players in the creative industry and the tattoo community, I feel a certain separation of worlds. It’s nobody’s fault though, right? It’s just how the cookie crumbles… into crumbs of obscurity. But does anyone actually care? Is the current creative industry curious enough to understand and bridge the gap with the tattoo community? Do tattoo artists even want to include themselves in the mainstream discourse? Am I just a babbling vain idiot who wants to be heard? Does my perspective hold any merit or should we just leave it be and not rock the boat?

While these musings float in the ether, I will continue to do what I can for the tattoo community: write about them—about us. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword. And in our world, so is the needle.

Los Carlos Tattoos Studio

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