The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga by Jake Verzosa and Natividad Sugguiyao

By François Cheval

What defines photography is one's experience of the world. But where we think there is but nostalgia we find instead the joys of the present. They are indeed still there, these people with their demands, wishes and hopes. By taking refuge in these portraits, we must have towards them not the cautious attitude of an entomologist, but the desire to gain access to the understanding of a condition that is beyond reach. We cannot feign detachment and indifference.

All these figures continuously roll out memory-images. Everything is imbued with a classic style made of accurate moves and sacrifices. In this structure, balance between mass and harmony in the drawings prevails. It is some sort of judgment laid out in these body-signs by the group's shared experience and destinies. That is why no one smiles before the camera. Half-naked and clad in a few necklaces, one knows where one stands. One knows towards what abyss of oblivion or pain these acts of existence, which by definition have been chaotic, will throw themselves. We are very far from the romantic illusion of “true” nature, of objects emptied of meaning. But through these photographs, we can capture fragments of this vast silent speech. What we see is enough for our expectations. These women and men are exposing allusions, double entendres and questions before us. They hate but one thing : innocence. 

When all is said and done, these images shun any immediate characterization. We would like them to be installed prominently at the National Museum.  It is in these places where the invisible framework is usually revealed and incorporated with the real.  These engraved ornaments are to the Philippines what parietal caves are to the West. As memoirs and early records, they are the origin of a budding national identity. In this series, one cannot deny its political nature which the exotic commodities will continually refute.  Neither the Spanish conquest, nor the American domination, the Japanese occupation and the Marcos dictatorship have succeeded in removing the pride of a people and the exhibition of these bodies, owing to the warrior principle for men and for women, the erotic principle. These convoluted and, to others, incomprehensible forms have managed to keep the group's enemies at a distance and have made them fearful and harmless. These lines which are as unreadable as an Ordnance Survey map are as efficient. This is a spectacular point of concentration and a user guide for insiders in their quest for the advent of truth and victory. The Kalinga culturally and linguistically inscribes in its signs the alert spirit of rebellion, the new map of the archipelago.

Hardback, 112 pages
Published October 2014 by Silverlens Inc.
ISBN: 978-981-09-2467-6