How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

Leah Anifowose and Jet Catacutan are two young tattoo artists in Calgary who never imagined they'd one day make a living doing something their families initially strongly disapproved of. 

But while bumpy in places, their careers have helped them better understand and define their own complex identities.

Now, their art is helping others in their community find ways to express themselves on their own terms — challenging traditional expectations not just within Filipino circles, but also, stylistically, within the industry itself. 

Navigating family expectations

Before either Anifowose or Catacutan established themselves in the industry, they had their parents to contend with. 

Like many young Filipino Canadians, they were caught between the sometimes conflicting desires to meet their family's expectations and chase their own dreams.

  • Filipino Bureau

    Q&A: How some struggle with traditional expectations and pressures within Filipino families

  • Filipino Bureau

    3 young Filipino-Calgarians on Generation 1.5 and how they connect to community while forging their own way

Both Anifowose and Catacutan say they butted up against prevalent cultural misconceptions about what kind of people get tattoos, and what tattoos say about a person. 

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

“They were like, 'Are you in gangs?'” recalled Catacutan, when he told his parents 18 months ago that he was starting a tattoo apprenticeship.

“That's the stigma they had, but mainly because they didn't have the knowledge about the tattooing scene.”

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

Anifowose jokes that just getting a tattoo would be reason enough for her mother to disown her. So she didn't mention it until she had already landed an apprenticeship and quit her job. 

“But I'm really lucky that I'm in the position where my mom's just kind of accepted, 'OK, this is what she wants to do. I'm going to be supportive about it.' Because she wants to be in my life. She doesn't want to have rifts there that don't need to be,” Anifowose said.

Catacutan says tattooing is just another of his creative outlets, and his parents are starting to see that.

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

“The more I get to show that to them, the more they appreciate it, and they actually support my art.”

It's one thing to win over family; it's another to break into the industry.

The difference representation can make

Catacutan says he was lucky to connect with a mentor, almost by accident, who saw the potential in his art. Someone who just happened to be Filipino.

But Anifowose struggled to find an apprenticeship.

“I feel like things would have been easier for me, a female person of colour, to have someone who looked like me and could kind of understand where I was coming from,” she said.

Some in the industry questioned her style. They told her no one would want the kinds of anime, Pokemon and Sailor Moon-inspired tattoos that she was creating.

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

Still, she stuck with it.

And when she finally got her chance, she started to build a client base — affirming not just her talent, but also her cultural identity.

Many of Anifowose's clients are Filipino, even though she doesn't advertise herself as such. 

She says this unexpected affinity has helped her feel at home in some of the more complicated parts of her identity.

“The tattoos I design, they're the kind of tattoos that I would get. And it's interesting that that's what's attracting other Filipinos.”

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

She's grateful for this recognition from her community, because it's helped her acknowledge the authenticity of her own experience, she says.

“For a lot of my earlier life, I kind of rejected being Filipino. I really wanted to fit in with all my white friends, and I didn't want people to see me as 'other.' Because that was hard to survive as a kid,” Anifowose said.

“But now that I'm older, I'm regretting not leaning into that more. I'm like, 'Why didn't I learn Tagalog?'

“I almost felt like I wasn't Filipino enough for certain spaces. And it's kind of cool that stuff that I'm drawing for myself is still attracting Filipino attention. It's kind of reaffirming. It's like, 'Oh, OK, I am Filipino enough,'” Anifowose said.

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

One thing she sees mirrored in her clients is the experience of trying to reconcile who they are with who their families want them to be.  

“A lot of people that I've tattooed have actually been like, 'Will my parents see this? Can I get it here so they won't see it?' So very much people who are like, 'I want to express myself creatively, but I also want to keep the balance in my family,'” she said.

“I think that's something that hasn't been super easy for Filipino Canadians.”

“We have a weird space that we're trying to find ourselves in. A lot of people are just trying to figure out who they are as a Filipino, but also as a Canadian, and who they are as a person, individually. And tattoos are a great way of expressing that,” Anifowose said.

Tattoos as self-expression

Both Anifowose and Catacutan say the industry is attracting people who may never have considered getting tattooed 10 years ago because perceptions are changing. 

“The culture has shifted from that stigma that tattooing is for bad crowds and whatnot, and now it's really purely out of art and expression,” Catacutan said.

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

“You don't have to be a certain type of person to get a tattoo, like super edgy or badass or anything,” Anifowose said. 

“I think a lot of people are finding niches in the tattoo culture that weren't there before. And they're like, 'I fit into this, and I want to put this on my body, because it's something that's important to me.'”

As a tattoo artist, Catacutan says he's proud to be able to connect what he's doing now to what his ancestors did centuries ago.

  • Video

    He trekked to a remote Philippines village to learn from one of the world's oldest tattoo artists

Traditional tribal tattoos, or batok, were used in pre-colonial times to signify bravery, beauty or status in the Philippines.

How two young Filipino tattoo artists are navigating family, identity and the industry

“It's kind of cool to see if there's a rise again with Filipino tattoo artists, given the fact that we have that rich history with tattooing, making an actual impact out here and in Calgary,” Catacutan said. 

“I think that's something I want — to reach out to more of these Filipino artists and give them a voice, or representation. Having that tight community … it's one of my dreams.”

Anifowose says she likes the sound of that, too. 

“If it does turn into that kind of thing where it's like … let's establish a Filipino presence in the tattoo community, that would be really cool,” she said.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

[Eye Plus] Nights shine bright on Seoul’s Nodeulseom

Nodeulseom, an artificial island built a century ago, is a unique place from which to view Seoul’s nightscape over the Han River, especially in early summer. While you’re staring at ... Read more »

Why it's important for Indigenous people to tell our own stories

This First Person article is the experience of Ossie Michelin, a Labrador Inuk journalist from the community of North West River. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please ... Read more »

'Emergency Declaration,' 'In Front of Your Face' invited to Cannes' non-competition

Poster of “Emergency Declaration”South Korean films “Emergency Declaration,” directed by Han Jae-rim, and “In Front of Your Face” by Hong Sang-soo were invited to this year’s Cannes Film Festival.   In ... Read more »

Not all pickled veg is created equal: New book celebrates kimchi

Cover of “Kimchi in the Eyes of the World” (Korean Culture and Information Service)The Korean Culture and Information Service and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs jointly published ... Read more »

Here are the winners of the 2020 Governor General's Literary Awards

The 2020 Governor General's Literary Awards have been revealed. Among the winners is Cree writer Michelle Good for her debut novel Five Little Indians and renowned Canadian American poet Anne Carson for ... Read more »

Residential school survivors mourn after discovery of unmarked graves

Front Burner25:22Residential school survivors mourn after discovery of unmarked graves This week, all across the country, memorials were made out of teddy bears and rows of tiny shoes as people ... Read more »

PHOTO: Munch’s “The Sun” transported into the new Munch Museum in Oslo

Late Monday night, Edvard Munch’s enormous painting “The Sun” was transported to the new Munch Museum. The work was inserted into a specially designed hole in the wall of the ... Read more »

30 Asian artists to discover this Asian Heritage Month

All throughout Asian Heritage Month, CBC Music has been asking Asian-Canadian musicians for their song recommendations. The seven artists we surveyed — Sook-Yin Lee, Cartel Madras, Tyler Shaw, Cutsleeve, Estyr, Gong ... Read more »

Host Takara Small brings fresh perspective to the tech world in new CBC podcast

What happens when the one person with access to a quarter of a billion dollars unexpectedly dies — taking all the passwords with him? Introducing A Death in Cryptoland: the ... Read more »

They sent body bags and toe tags. She made a ribbon dress.

Unreserved12:32They sent body bags and toe tags. She made a ribbon dress. Using a sewing machine and the strength of her ancestors, Abigail Echo-Hawk transformed a symbol of death — ... Read more »

These parents are trying to raise their kids in an English-free home

Unreserved15:56These parents are trying to raise their kids in an English-free home A couple in Ontario are trying to raise their kids in an English-free home.  Emmaline Beauchamp (Mshkogaabwid Kwe) and ... Read more »

Why the first thing you should do when the pandemic is over is karaoke

Tapestry19:42Why the first thing you should do when the pandemic is over is karaoke When the pandemic ends, the first thing writer Mel Woods plans to do is hit the ... Read more »

Online games have become a big part of our pandemic lives

Spark54:01509: Social and persuasive games From pandemic socializing to major lawsuits, video games have have made a lot of news in the last year. “I used to play almost exclusively ... Read more »

How an Asian LGBTQ group in Toronto is helping youth feel comfortable in their skin

A program that works with LGBTQ Asians in Toronto called When You're Ready is helping youth embrace and affirm their sexuality through a culturally sensitive lens.  The program, the only one ... Read more »

'Unlike any other year': Muslim front-line workers reflect on Ramadan, prepare to mark Eid

As Muslims across Ontario mark the end of another Ramadan under a provincewide lockdown due, front-line workers say observing this past month while working through the pandemic has been nothing ... Read more »

The need for nostalgia: Looking back might be doing more for us than we realize

Lately, I've been loving the aroma of soft, salty pretzels and dark chocolate cakes baking in the oven, letting loose to '90s dance hits and chatting on the phone for ... Read more »

Your horoscope for the week ahead: Unfulfilled dreams may suddenly become a reality

There is a lot to look forward to this week. Jupiter's entry into Pisces last week is a game-changer. Jupiter is known for ruling Sagittarius, but he also rules Pisces. ... Read more »

Your horoscope for the week ahead: A New Moon in Taurus makes it easy to communicate your feelings and ideas

The highlight of this week — besides Tuesday's New Moon in Taurus — is Jupiter's entry into the compassionate sign of Pisces on Thursday, where he will be greeted by ... Read more »

Heirlooms from my Asian family: 7 women on the meaning and journey behind their keepsakes

Our connections to our past — and to our families — are often tied up with the physical, tangible things that have been passed down to us. For me, it's ... Read more »

The most exciting Canadian books coming out in spring 2021

Check out all the amazing Canadian books arriving in the first half of 2021! Canadian fiction Our top pick: Return of the Trickster by Eden Robinson See the rest of the Canadian ... Read more »

The beginner's guide to the greatest pastimes: Carrom

Among the checkerboards, Scrabble, chess and the Monopoly box that's missing pieces, there is one game in my family's collection that stands out among the rest — and it's not ... Read more »

How understanding women's pandemic experiences can help build a better post-COVID world

The Current21:56Author Lauren McKeon on the pandemic’s impact on women A Canadian author who has written about women's experiences during the pandemic says she wanted to record their stories to ... Read more »

Oslo’s Angry Boy had a rough month – but he’s ok now!

One of Norway’s most famous sculptures has been through it this month. One of the most famous sculptures in the Nordics was damaged, taken down for renovation, and then put ... Read more »

Norwegian photographer Johan Brun dead at 98

The famous Norwegian photographer Johan Brun is dead at 98 years old, according to the newspaper Dagbladet. Johan Brun worked as a photographer for Dagbladet from 1948 until he retired ... Read more »

Culture Minister gives Oslo Pride half a million kroner for a special event in 2022

The Norwegian government is giving Oslo Pride half a million kroner to mark the decriminalization of homosexuals with a special event in 2022. In 2022, it will be 50 years ... Read more »

Opinion: Young people in Norway are facing a bleak post-COVID future

Too often ridiculed as being more interested in TikTok than today’s events, the youth of Norway are seeing a once bright future slowly fade away thanks to the global pandemic. ... Read more »

Swedish cultural sector to receive billions in crisis support

The Swedish government will give the cultural sector 1.3 billion kroner in crisis support, as well as 3 billion in support for events that will be hit by the pandemic ... Read more »

PHOTO: 900,000 Norwegians watched Tix sing his way to the Eurovision final

On Tuesday, Tix made his way to the final of Eurovision, which kicks off on Saturday. A total of 898,000 Norwegians watched the semifinals. In comparison, “only” 678,000 “Norwegians watched ... Read more »

Øyafestivalen in Oslo has been canceled

The Øyafestivalen music festival has been canceled for the second year in a row. The festival’s organizers have made the decision that it is not possible to carry out the ... Read more »

Norway’s Ministry of Culture doubles corona support for cultural sector

The Ministry of Culture is doubling the support from NOK 400 to NOK 800 million in the stimulus scheme for the cultural sector, Minister of Culture Abid Raja (V) said. ... Read more »

Meet Dr. Ove Jakobsen, pioneer of “ecological economics” in Bodø

An interview by Norway Today. We spoke with Dr. Ove Jakobsen, Professor of Ecological Economics at Nord University and Ecological Economics Projects Coordinator for Bodø2024 – Bodø European Capital of ... Read more »

Hip, Hip, Hurra? Norway prepares for another COVID-era 17 Mai

For the second year running, the people of Norway will have to make do and celebrate Norway’s favorite day with restrictions, infection control measures, and a sense of cautious joy. ... Read more »

Edvard Munch graffitied his own “The Scream” painting, experts conclude

A small message is hidden in a corner of famous painting The Scream. The tiny, pencil inscription sits on the top-left corner of Edvard Munch‘s (1863, Ådalsbruk, Norway – 1944, Oslo, Norway) iconic ... Read more »

Child poverty in Norway: Why is it soaring and what can be done?

Statistics Norway (SSB) has released its latest annual findings, for 2019, on child poverty in Norway. Some 11.7% of all children, in Norway, now live in “households with persistently low ... Read more »

Easter in Norway: How is it celebrated?

Easter is a holiday that Norwegians look forward to with relish. More than just a religious holiday, it can involve one final ski for the season, reading a Nordic crime ... Read more »

Government allocates 10 million kroner to Norwegian films affected by the pandemic

Norwegian films that were distributed in the period from March 13 to September 30, 2020, can now apply for funding. A total of NOK 10 million will be distributed. “This ... Read more »

The Munch Museum in Oslo has finally been completed. Now, the move can start

The new Munch Museum’s opening has previously been postponed several times – most recently until the autumn of 2021. But now the building has finally been completed, and on Friday, ... Read more »

What you need to know about the Swedish Lapphund – one of Sweden’s national breeds

The Swedish Lapphund is one of Sweden’s national breeds, an all-around spitz type. They are usually known as great reindeer herders, but traditionally they have been used as watchdogs and ... Read more »

Foreign-owned culture sector companies could receive up to 300 million kroner of Norway’s corona funding

Foreign-owned companies could receive as much as NOK 300 million from the Norwegian support scheme for corona-exposed cultural actors. Newspaper VG has reviewed last year’s compensation and stimulation schemes for ... Read more »

Vietnam tie with Lebanon in Futsal playoff match

Vietnam tied with Lebanon 0-0 in a play-off match held in the UAE on May 23 in their bid to advance to the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup finals in Lithuania in September. Read more »