Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Colourful illustration of a woman sitting in a clam shell, reminiscent of Botticelli's Birth of Venus. She has dark brown skin and long flowing black hair, and wears a yellow wrap that leaves her back and arms exposed. Along her back and arms are intricate tattooed patterns — Batok, as described in this post's caption. Her eyes are closed and she has an expression of peace or joy as she raises one arm up towards a wave of water or clouds in the abstract background.

May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and as it draws to a close, we share this beautiful piece by CHASI artist-in-residence Sharon Strauss. Writing about this piece, Sharon says:

“Batok is an indigenous Filipino style of tattooing that predates the colonization of the Philippines. It is traditionally done by hand-tapping the ink into the skin, often earned after a significant milestone. The patterns have distinct meanings, though the coverage, complexity, and social significance varied among peoples.

I am half Pinoy, though you wouldn’t know it from a glance. My mother is unmistakably Filipino, Visayan specifically, with beautiful dark hair and eyes. I stand a head taller than her at 5’5″, with my father’s complexion and unplaceable features. I grew up making lumpia, sitting at the table with my titas, experienced the classics as the eldest daughter of an Asian parent. But I never learned Tagolog, or my mother’s native tongue: Cebuano. Always had to clarify, that yes, this is my mom. I know that in many ways, this made my life easier than my sisters’, who bear our heritage more plainly to see.

Maybe that’s why, though I’ve always wanted to get batok done, I’ve never felt worthy of it.

I suppose this piece is my idealized image of beauty, intentionally formed out of my yearning and defiance. Venus in her shell, not pale and pure as a pearl, but dark and lovely, marked by her culture and wearing it proudly.”