Navigating family expectationsBefore 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.
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Catacutan says tattooing is just another of his creative outlets, and his parents are starting to see that.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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Traditional tribal tattoos, or batok, were used in pre-colonial times to signify bravery, beauty or status in the Philippines.
“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.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.