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Tattoo artist Aleks Figueroa crop
Tattoo artist, Aleks Figueroa displays his work. He specializes in indigenous Filipino script. Pictured here a tattoo that reads, "Lola, Inay, Anak," meaning "grandmother, mother, child."
Tattoo artist Aleks Figueroa crop
Tattoo artist, Aleks Figueroa displays his work. He specializes in indigenous Filipino script. Pictured here a tattoo that reads, "Lola, Inay, Anak," meaning "grandmother, mother, child."

The Traveling Tattoo Artist

Tattoo artist Aleks Figueroa spends many hours of the day permanently staining people’s skin with art, but he admits he doesn’t always know what he’s doing. Now, he’s on a mission to find out. “I want to understand the history of tattooing,” Aleks says. “I’m a part of something, and I want to know what it is.”

Aleks specializes in alibata, an indigenous Filipino script, and his business is growing tremendously. “There’s a whole generation of Filipino Americans who want alibata tattoos,” Aleks says. “It draws a parallel between themselves and their heritage…and besides, it looks really cool.” But there’s still something missing. There’s very little documentation to be found on the history of tattooing. And this didn’t work for Aleks. “I’m the kind of person who needs to know fully what I’m doing. When I do something, I need to do it completely.”

Tattoo artist Aleks Figueroa
Tattoo artist, Aleks Figueroa, shows some of his work done in traditional Filipino techniques. From left to right: “Isa,” meaning “one”, an earlier design. “Espiritu,” the symbol representing his client’s family name, and the symbol for “spirit.” She and her sister both got the same tattoo. “Maki baka,” meaning “to fight, to struggle.” Credit: Aleks Figueroa with permission from his clients.

So he ventured to Thailand to study the ancient practices of Thai tattooists, using eighteen-inch needles to stain the skin with ink. He also did research in Hawaii to interview members of the first generation of Filipino-American tattoo artists. Next, he plans to visit the Philippines to witness the traditional forms of tattooing, where mountain people pierce the skin with bone and squid ink.

“Tattooing is an art form like no other. It is obscure, the permanent staining of the skin, it involves pain, and it can mean so many things, camaraderie, bravery, love, and remembrance of a lost one.”

Now in his second year of research, Aleks says, “I want to accurately document the history of Filipino tattooing, so that future generations will know what we don’t know.” “Plus, I’d like to know,” Aleks laughs.

To contact Aleks, email: tulisan (@) bigfoot.com.

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