MULTIMEDIA

Tattooist on pins and needles, as pandemic threatens livelihood, industry’s future

Text and photos by George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 07 2020 10:30 AM | Updated as of Jun 08 2020 01:02 PM

As strict lockdown measures begin to wind down, selected establishments are being allowed by government to reopen, part of the country’s efforts in reviving its economy which was hit hard by one of the world’s longest quarantines put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Unfortunately for Kiko, not his real name, his tattoo shop is not one of them. 

“Nasa kadulu-duluhan kami nu’ng listahan ng mga papayagang mag-operate ng (Department of Trade and Industry). Sa September pa yata kami,” he says.

A 32-year-old tattoo artist, he was left with no choice but to slowly resume operations despite restrictions, booking and scheduling clients online to remain low key. A necessary risk, he says, so he and his family can get back on their feet after almost three months of being forced to stay at home. 

“Dahil sa COVID-19, nagkaroon ng idea ’yung buong tattoo community kung paano mag-operate noon ’yung mga bansa na illegal ang tattoo,” he says. 

“Dati ini-imagine ko lang ’yun. Tapos ngayon ganito. Di ba medyo nakaka-aning ’pag magbu-book ka ng client. Pero wala, kailangan.”

Using their hard-earned money, Kiko and his wife opened their tattoo shop in 2012 becoming full-time tattoo artists and business owners. 

Raising three kids and their only source of income forced to close, he says sometimes he cant help but feel anxious. Bouts of depression have also hit him during the height of the lockdown when thoughts of losing their business permanently crossed his mind. 

“ ’Yung shop na pinundar namin ng halos 10 years na mawawala lang ng isang iglap dahil sa COVID-19, at wala naman kaming ibang assistance na maaasahan kundi kami-kami lang din. Overwhelming fear ng helplessness,” he says.

Despite this, Kiko says that not everything that has happened to them has been a downer. He says he is thankful the commercial establishment where their shop is located didn’t charge them the P15,000 monthly rent from March to May.

They also received help from their barangay, although he and his wife were not able to get cash assistance from the DSWD.

“May ayuda from barangay, pero nag-fill up din kami ng form para sa SAP pero for some reason wala naman nangyari. Wala naman ako oras maghagilap sa munisipyo kung paano ba kasi nga hands on ako sa mga bata,” he says.

To make ends meet, Kiko and his wife had to dip into their savings supposedly allotted for their children’s tuition. 

Kiko says he and some of his friends looked for different ways to earn, from selling artwork to applying in graphic design jobs. But having no experience in office jobs, Kiko says he found it hard to compete with other applicants.


“Nag-isip ako mag-apply, gamitin ’yung graphic design side ng pag-aaral ko. Ang problema, sa tinagal-tagal kong nagta-tattoo, wala akong office experience na recent,” he says. 

“Huli kong trabaho na hindi tattoo, hindi pa ako graduate ng college. Grocery bagger ako sa States. So ’yun ’yung huli kong work experience outside tattooing.”

Kiko says he finds it odd that tattoo parlors, which are used to contamination-prevention measures, are not being allowed to open yet. 

“ ’Yung mga salon hindi naman hasa sa cross-contamination (prevention) measures mga ’yan. Kami, may COVID o wala, meron kaming safety measures lagi. Alcohol, gloves, sanitation,” Kiko says. 

“Nagta-tattoo nga kami sa mga convention na wala namang nagkakasakit. Kailan mo ba huling nabalitaan na may nagkasakit sa tattoo?” 

Even with the official reopening of tattoo parlors still a few months away, Kiko plans to get all six of his tattoo artists swab-tested to give them a sense of safety and certification that all of them are good to operate. 

He says that even if he finds it inessential in their line of work, Kiko has secured a full set of personal protective gears for all of them, which are kept neatly in a shelf. 

Since tattooing requires gloves, surgical masks and extensive sanitation, by default, the only new thing added to their safety precaution while working is the face shield.

“Sa totoo lang, under DTI bawal pa kami mag-operate. Gusto namin sumunod kasi social responsibility rin namin ’yun. Kaso gutom ang kapalit,” Kiko says. 

“Kung magpo-provide ba ang gobyerno ng pera o pagkain para di ko muna to gawin, OK lang, di ba? Kaso wala.”

Jep, one of the artists, works on a client inside their shop. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

With a closed sign and a half-opened roll-up shutter, the tattoo shop operates discreetly. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko prepares to work on a client, his first in months. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko prepares to work on a client, his first in months. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Medical grade disinfectants and skin protectants are one of the regular tools of a tattoo artist. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko works on a client, his first in months. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko wears a face shield as he works on his first client in months. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko wears a face shield as he works on his first client in months. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

A client is reflected on one of the shop’s artworks as he gets tattooed on June 6, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko wears a face shield as he works on his first client in months. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko uses green soap, a hospital grade cleanser to wipe clean a fresh tattoo. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko wears a face shield, as he works on his first client in months. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko wraps a coverup piece. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Kiko takes a photo of his work on a client. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News