MANILA – The family of Filipino traditional tattoo artist Whang-od called on the public to "stop the negativity" after the organizers of Manila FAME suffered a backlash for bringing the artist to the trade fair in Manila.
In an interview with Rappler, Grace Palicas, the grandniece of Whang-od who did tattooing with the artist during the fair, said the family was surprised by the backlash. (READ: VIRAL: Was Whang-od exploited at Manila FAME?)
Palicas said that Whang-od herself requested to do as much tattooing as she could during the fair since "she's already in Manila."
"Gusto niya talaga na siya. Ang masasabi ko lang, sana nandoon sila sa event para alam nila. Hindi tayo sana mapanghusga. Sabi nga ni Bob Marley, stop the negativity," Palicas said, paraphrasing the famous line in the late singer's "Positive Vibration" song.
(She really wanted to do it. All I can say is that, I hope they were at the event so they know [what happened]. I hope we won't be judgmental. As Bob Marley said, stop the negativity.)
Palicas refuted claims that Whang-od did all "300 tattoos from 10 am to 5 pm for two days," which sparked concerns that the elderly artist was "overworked."
"As much as possible, she wanted to ink as many people with tattoo. She put tattoos to around 120 people. I know this because I was the one who takes note of the numbers," Palicas said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The rest were made by Palicas and another family member, Elyang.
Many netizens had slammed the fair organizers for "exploiting" and "overworking" Whang-od, who claimed she turned 100 years old in February.
According to Palicas, Whang-od did not work for 8 hours straight during her two-day stay at the fair. Tattoo sessions only went on for about 4 hours with breaks per day, she said. READ: Whang-od at Manila FAME: Marginal notes on a damaged culture)
Asked about the viral photo where the artist was "napping" during the press conference, Palicas explained that Whang-od got bored of the questions and also closed her eyes because the flash from the cameras hurt her eyes.
"Naboboring kasi siya sa mga tanong tapos 'yung mga camera, masyadong maliwanag pero sinabihan ni Nerza (del Rosario) 'yung mga cameraman na 'wag na magflash," Palicas said, defending the Manila FAME team.
(She got bored with the questions and the flash coming from the cameras hurt her eyes, that's why Nerza del Rosario told the photographers and cameramen to stop using flash.)
Del Rosario is part of the Manila FAME team.
Many also likened the live tattoo sessions during the trade fair to the 1904 Philippine Exposition at St Louis World's Fair featuring indigenous people as living exhibits.
Jayvee Franz Paclay Sabawil, a relative of the artists, echoed the same sentiments. He said the tattoo sessions should have been held in a private room.
In defense of the event, Palicas said it was only during the opening ceremony on Friday, October 21 – from 9 am to 10 am – that the tattoo sessions were done in the middle of the hall. The rest of the sessions were done in a private room.
'She's really happy'
As seen on photos, her family members described Whang-od's first visit to Manila as nothing but happy.
"Nag-iistorya siya sa Manila na, 'Ah, ganoon pala 'yung mga buildings at mga tao.' Pero wala siyang sinabing sana hindi siya tumuloy. Masaya siya at tumatawa nga. Nagjo-joke kami na, 'Sikat na si Whang-od!' She's really happy," Eva Oggay, the tattoo artist's niece, told Rappler.
(She said in her stories about Manilla, "Ah, so that's hwo their buildings and people are." But she never told us she shouldn't have pushed through [with the trip]. She's happy and she was laughing. We sometimes joke that "Whang-od is already famous!" She's really happy.)
"Tapos kung tatanong namin kung pagod, kami pa ang papagalitan. 'Kain kayo ng kain! Ako magta-tattoo,' sabi niya, (When we ask if she's tired, she would even scold us, "All you do is eat! I will do tattoos)" Oggay added.
Oggay also noted that a medical team was on standby to look after the artist. The trip to and from Manila was also short and sweet, she said.
"Wala talaga siyang reklamo (She has no complaints)," said Oggay.
In 2015, a campaign calling for the recognition of Whang-od as National Artist went viral. Indigenous art forms, however, are under the "Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA)" or the National Living Treasures Award.
The organizers of the Manila FAME explained that they brought the artist to Manila to endorse her nomination for the award.
Whang-od's nomination to the GAMABA Award was officially accepted by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) during the second day of the Manila FAME on October 21. – Rappler.com