Arts·Art Hurts

You decorate your body to show you value it. That's at the heart of Ilona Fiddy's handpoke tattoos

Ilona Fiddy looks to culture for inspiration — from Hawaiian shirts to her ancestral roots in the Philippines.

Ilona Fiddy looks to culture for inspiration — from Hawaiian shirts to her ancestral roots in the Philippines

This is part one of Art Hurts, a new CBC Arts digital series now streaming on CBC Gem that focuses on eight of the game-changers in the Canadian tattoo landscape. And they're all female-identifying or gender non-binary. Just saying, guys.

When I started looking for the tattoo artists that would fill the roster of Art Hurts, there was one person who seemed to be recommended by everybody. That was Ilona Fiddy, a multi-talented artist with a steady hand and a commitment to simultaneously exploring contemporary, vintage and traditional aesthetics. From typography inspired by Hawaiian shirts to tattoos drawn from ancestral motifs from the Philippines, Fiddy looks to culture for inspiration.

In this video made by Silent Tower, you meet Fiddy in her Toronto studio and find out why she's passionate about her Filipino culture, her mixed heritage and her trip to the Philippines early in 2018, where she visited the Butbut Tribe in Buscalan, Kalinga and met legendary Filipina tattoo artist and the "last" and oldest mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist), Whang-Od.

This was the culmination of a growing interest in Filipino ancestral tattoos, born from Fiddy's research for artworks that were cultural or centred around diaspora. Now, she designs work that's inspired by ancestral tattooing, as well as the culture and the music she grew up with. And in all of it, Fiddy strives to approach her work from a decolonized perspective, an understanding of what stick-and-poke tattooing has meant in North American culture and a reverence for skin itself. As she says: "You're decorating — you adorn things of value and things with purpose. It is an extension to decorate the skin. The way that you decorate something to show that you value it; it's the same thing for your body."

See more of Fiddy's work (or get on her waiting list) here.

Stream Art Hurts now on CBC Gem.


Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an art history instructor and is always quite terrified of bees.