Tatak Indio: Inigo Jaldon on Tattooing and Living in Siargao

Inigo Jaldo, tattoo artist based in Siargao, shares his story how doing art and tattoo led him to the lifestyle he have always dreamed of and to the island that exposures him to the importance of community. From following the norm of finishing college and doing corporate jobs to the place he calls home now, Inigo narrates glimpse of how everything led him to Siargao and the art of tattooing. And, as an artist, he emphasizes the importance of collaboration, going back to your cultural roots, and doing art for art sake.

What’s your story? 

I started like all average Filipino in regards to going to school, finishing college. I followed that path and that’s what my family wanted me to do. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that or pursuing education, so I got a degree in Sociology and got into different kinds of jobs, labored in corporate, being a cook, being an assistant… I had to go all of these. It prepared me to the lifestyle I’ve always wanted, which to do pretty everything I want, the artist part of it and living in an island. So, all those things contributed to the end product. It took awhile but… I had to do the prerequisite in able to enjoy what I’m doing right now.

What got you into tattooing?

If you’re in the Philippine setting, artists in the Philippines are either very talented or very lucky. Or, they do it because it’s their craft or their passion. But what will make a living as an artist in the Philippines could be quite tricky. Being an artist, I had to set that aside to pursue more practical things and assess what medium I can get into and to able to make money, or live in an island like Siargao. So I had to prepare moving to Siargao. I had to get into tattooing to make a living a here.

The first time I visited was when I’m eighteen years old, back in 1998. I already accessed back then in Siargao that it would be hard to make a living, because back then life was simple. I didn’t have the life skills like fishing to make it here. Then comes a decade ago, or twelve or thirteen years ago, I visited here again and accessed the place. And it was the right time for me to live here, at least as a tattoo artist.

I kinda owe it a lot to tattooing, because if it weren’t for tattooing I wouldn’t be able to stay long enough to access what my next steps will be. That’s the reason why I got into tattooing. 

Your tattoos are very Filipino. How do you find inspiration from that?

Art in general itself influences it. It’s just a matter of innovating. It’s all been done. So for me, I just want to be some sort of catalyst or do it with the oldest elements, then put it out there. It’s because growing up in Mindanao, being from Zamboanga, also being in Davao, living admist of tribes who visits the cities often and more so in Zamboanga where we have a very interesting culture. It’s like a mix of Malay, also influenced of Western culture and Christians. We all have these swords and intricate designs. I guess if you are an artist you got stuck with it. It kinda like gets in your subconscious. That’s where I get my inspirations from. So when I do art, I always put what I see. It’s a mix of nostalgia and you want to represent also. So being a Filipino, if you gonna make art, might as well make an imprint of yourself being a Filipino.

How important it is for you to put Filipino culture into your craft?

It’s what you are; it’s where you came from. There are people, more so from this generation… I see more people who are attuned to their culture. And I think that’s very important. That’s a big part of our identity. It’s something bigger than us.

How your non-Filipino clients appreciate your Filipino designs? And how the collaboration goes?

When I got into the industry as a tattooist, I came fairly late. Meaning, back then, there are so many talented tattooist in Davao, who are technicians that are very good at application and designing as well.  So it’s quite difficult for me to make it because I wasn’t that established, so I had to make a different approach. I assessed and I realized that I have to showcase my style, instead of just doing portraits which is not my forte. I stick with my own style and make it.

It’s given already. I know that anyone, myself included, if you make something that’s… you know good taste, there’s always be a client, regardless of what nationality. What good stuff is good stuff. So the good thing about being in Siargao also is… I’m the longest dated tattoo artist by the way, one of my claims in the island. So what’s the good thing about being a tattoo artist in the island, you meet a lot of people who are open minded, especially the demographic that you’re attracting—the surfers, the artists. I get more inspired because they love what I’m doing and they appreciate it.

So when it comes to collaboration, they just give me an idea and what style I have, so it’s like 30% percent already. So I work on it and it happens. They get the tattoo.

What’s the feedback been like particularly for non-Filipinos?

For them, it’s an aesthetic. They appreciate it because it looks good, but some of them will appreciate the symbolism behind it. But believe it or not, there are cases that they want to get the tattoo because I am their friend. It makes it even more meaningful. It’s all those things. And of course when they enjoy their lifestyle here, they enjoy the island. It makes more special for them when they get a tattoo from me. That’s mostly the feedback. They are very appreciative because it reminds them so much of the lifestyle they had or the time they had in the island.

What’s your favorite tattoo you’ve made? And why it’s meaningful for you?

That’s why I sent several photos to you. It’s very subjective. It depends on my mood. But it changes. You can pick anything and it’s my favorite for some point, for a time. When I did a tattoo, sometimes your creativity become compartmentalize. I have to consider their ideas and my ideas. That’s why when doing customized stuff, you have consider their inputs as well. Unlike when I do work like this, it’s more for art sake. Sometimes you just make art for art sake. And it’s a different feeling. It’s because I just want to draw. When it comes to tattooing, it’s more different. When I want to have a great time or good time, for leisure, I would just paint whatever.

Wherever you’re tattooing, painting, or doing graphic design, there’s always a Filipino touched to it.

 Of course. To be honest, I don’t really thing about it. It’s already innate, because I’m Filipino. And if you do art, it reflects your personality. And that’s a big chunk of my personality.

What’s the best thing about Siargao?

The reason why I live in Siargao is because life is very simple and the quality is very good—fresh fish, good surf, and there are a lot of good locals here. The people who would appreciate Siargao are those appreciate good quality lifestyle, nature, or surf especially. If you surf, Siargao is one of the best probably. If you wanna eat, there’s a lot of good restaurants here. There are a lot of good chefs living in the island, people who love the lifestyle. So we are all interacting with so many talented artists and cooks and chefs, or what not.

So I would say, just explore. Because it keeps on changing. It’s very dynamic.  Of course, we have the classics. I live next to Harana. It’s one of my favorite spots. It’ pretty much my front yard. Harana beachfront is one of the best spot in the Philippines. It’s very subjective. If you want to party, it’s also good but kinda veering away from it already because people, especially the community and the LGUs, are trying to start early and end early for the locals to progress. So it’s changing. The expectations shouldn’t be of Boracay, because the people are different here. If you stay long enough, live long enough, you will meet interesting characters or people —locals, Filipinos or otherwise. One main things that I want people to know and most of friends who are advocates for is you have to respect the locals. Because the lifestyle we have here is different from the status quo we are used to or wherever from what country or city we are from, it doesn’t necessarily applied here. 

What I love about this place are my local friends who are very humble and they live very good lives. They’re probably the best surfers in the world. They’re very humble and modest. I would like to tell the viewers that if ever they will visit that the locals are here way longer than any of us. So for me, the whole Siargao experience is being amidst with the locals and enjoying the place with them. And don’t forget, always be respectful.

As an artist and as a Filipino, how do you find empowerment in this field?

For me, empowerment in this field is to be able to do it for the sake of doing it and otherwise. Being able to have the privilege to do art whether as means of income or being able to art for art sake. That’s who I look at empowerment in this field. 

Inspiring message to Filipinos and those living abroad.

Very simple: don’t forget your roots. Always remember where you came from.

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