Who Did Your Ink?: JR Guerrero revitalizes traditions of indigenous peoples

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      Who Did Your Ink? is the Straight’s weekly feature, where we ask badass Vancouverites about the talented artists, indelible stories, and, at times, questionable antics behind their most treasured tattoos.

      What is your name?  JR Guerrero.

      What you do?  I'm a career advisor, culture worker, and the cofounder of the Kathara Pilipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society.

      Who did your ink?  Mayo Landicho of Birthmark Tattoos (194 East King Edward Avenue).

      Why did you choose this artist to do your tattoo?  Mayo Landicho is a personal friend. I’ve known him as a singer, songwriter, graphics designer, mountain climber, environmentalist, and culture artist.

      His most recent transformation is that of the ink. He has learned from books, peers, tattoo masters, and has won international awards. He promotes tribal tattoo from all parts of the world. To me, getting inked is a personal and intimate bond between the artist and the canvas. Trust is important; I trust who did my ink.

      Is there any meaning behind it?  Mayo’s first tattoos on me (2006) were neo-tribal images tattooed on my collarbone that spoke of water and fire. He inked me with armbands out of ancient Philippine pre-colonization scripts called alibata or baybayin. It reads my surname, Guerrero , which means warrior in Spanish. A number of years passed on and suddenly, I find Mayo Landicho an internationally awarded tattoo artist!

      Mayo made a trek to a remote mountain community called Buscalan in the Cordilleras north of the Philippines in 2011. He paid homage to one of the oldest living tattoo artists in the Philippines named Apo Wang Od, who practices the traditional tattoo art of batok or hand-tapping. 

      Mayo inked me in the tribal tradition of commemorating milestones in one's life. Examples of these are a tribal warrior’s claim to victory, a successful journey, rites of passage, or any notable accomplishment. Mayo inked me with a centipede and spearhead representing leadership; sinawali or native weaving representing the threading of people and communities together; and a lotus leaf representing spiritual awakening.

      Revitalizing indigenous peoples traditions, for me, means returning to the land. It’s what helps me make sense of my experience as a visitor here on traditional land of Coast Salish people. I believe that reaching out to the first peoples of Turtle Island through my own sense of indigeneity helps bring healing from centuries of injustice wrought on indigenous peoples worldwide.

      A unique event that centres around indigenous voice is the Third International Babaylan Conference 2016, which is billed as Makasaysayang Pagtatagpo: Historic Encounter of Filipinos and Indigenous Turtle Islanders Revitalizing Ancestral Traditions Together. The gathering highlights the collective resilience of colonized societies in the Philippines and in North America, and a persistent return to indigenous practices believed to bring about healing.

      What’s next on your ink list?  My body is a canvas. It tells stories just like all bodies do.

      In honour of those who have gone before me in two lands I now call home, my skin will host forever ink I plan to get from budding Haida artist Corey Bulpitt and Filipino-American master tattoo artist and author Lane Wicken.

      JR Guerrero will be conducting the Third International Babaylan Conference this Friday (September 23) at the YMCA Camp Elphinstone in Gibsons, B.C. For more information about the event, click here