The elders of Kalinga are known the world over for their batok tattoos—intricate markings proudly adorning their bodies as a symbol of beauty, strength, and tradition. Over in Makati, Silverlens Galleries’ newest exhibit is bringing the marks of these tattooed women to center stage.
Jake Verzosa’s “The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga” documents the last generation of Kalinga women who earned their traditional batok tattoos as a rite of passage, before the impact of Western beauty standards all but halted the practice. Wanting to create a series connected to his roots in the Cagayan Valley, Jake turned his attention—and camera—to these women he recalls used to scare him as a child, in an effort to understand the rapidly declining tattoo culture and tradition.
Armed with a film camera and a white backdrop, Jake spent three years visiting different villages in Kalinga to meet and photograph the women, learning about the meaning behind each marking and the social and symbolic significance they held. With help from Natividad Sugguiyao—provincial officer of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and a tattooed woman herself—the project was also published as a photo book in 2014.
With the change of attitudes around the culture of tattooing (and the batok tattoo’s recent resurgence, thanks to the work of Apo Whang-od and her apprentices), “The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga” showcases some of the best of the traditional Filipino practice, and gives a face to the country’s rich tattoo history and culture.
“The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga” is available for viewing at Silverlens Gallery’s online viewing room until Thursday, June 17.