Baring the ink

March 15, 2019 – Vinz Lamorena

It’s easy to forget that Shaira Luna’s arms are riddled with ink. We see her strut in long sleeves, with its soft fabrics draping gracefully around her arms. But underneath the dainty clothing, a collection of memories is revealed—with fragments of time embedded onto her skin.

Shaira’s tattoos have multiplied since she got a small half moon engraved on her back. She was 17 then and thought it was a nice mark to symbolize her last name, which, in Spanish, translates to the celestial figure. But even tattoos transform over time, and the symbols that people carry on their body find new meaning. 

Over her first tattoo, an image of a tiger now takes over her lower back. “The tramp stamp is now a tramp envelope,” she jokes.

She recently had an old-school metronome inked. The photographer estimates more than 30 tattoos have found a home on her skin, and at this point, Shaira has stopped counting them altogether. What baffles her is the public’s unceasing curiosity about her tattoos, with all its meanings and histories. “It’s funny because I think the more tattoos I’ve gotten, the more I kind of cover them up,” Shaira says.

For someone who’s been getting inked almost half of her life, she insists there are no profound meanings that attach themselves to her tattoos, but each one is a link to a certain past that she wants to remember. A lot of them are objects that belong to a different decade, and there’s an obvious fascination on symbols, a gravitating curiosity on things that are lived in.

Detailed line work in black and white ink—that’s how Shaira likes her tattoos. The designs often take shape with the guide of old photographs. It’s important for her that each tattoo holds its own flaws and, to an extent, mirror its image of being in the past. The tattoos are trajections of how she remembers these certain objects.

“I think that extends to everything that I collect or acquire. I just like things that are used, things that have a history or have a story to them,” the avid vintage collector shares.

Among the tattoos she likes to show people is her dad’s favorite drag racing car—the 1979 Ford Escort. “I really love vintage cars and things with wheels. I don’t know how to ride motorbikes and I’m not a very good at parking, but I love driving,” Shaira admits.

An old-fashioned desk-mount pencil sharpener sits on the back of her wrist. It makes her reminisce all those times when she would sharpen pencils while waiting for her grandfather, who used to own an office and school supplies store.

She also has a table that stands for her favorite band. It is a nod to the Dave Matthews Band 1994 album “Under the Table and Dreaming.” Shaira became a fan of their music in the late 2000s, and this particular tattoo was on her list as early as 2017. “I was supposed to put Matilda under it so she’d be the one under the table and dreaming,” she shares.

Every Sunday, she sets aside time for personal shoots. In these productions, she pours in a remarkable attention to detail. Shaira sources tableware, fabric, and all sorts of decors from decades before, putting all these little things to channel that distinct nostalgia in her images. Often, it goes unnoticed. But Shaira finds no need for validation as she seeks to build reflections of the past through her photographs.

“I have attachments to certain objects, not in a materialistic kind of way but objects really help me tell stories. So I think it was just natural for me to put objects on myself,” she adds. 

Among the map of vintage trinkets are the words "Stevie" and "Wonder" on her forearms. It's not a tribute to the singer, but to her most loyal cat. “I used to doodle in my notebooks, and I just think of my skin as kind of like the back of my notebook where you put your extra thoughts and things that you want to remember, the things you want to look back at,” Shaira says.

As for the tattoo that means most things to her, it's got to be the word "Machine" inked on the side of her left arm. Apart from borrowing the word from Florence and the Machine and Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine,” Shaira explains it stands for two other things: "I want my photos to feel like a time machine. And also because I feel like I don’t really stop and I don’t really need to rest so much—so I feel like a machine."

Shaira likens her skin to a furniture store catalogue, and she’s looking to have another vintage chair inked on her neck. If she gets the go-signal from her creative agency, she’ll be back on the tattooing chair of Dyun Depasupil (more popular as @dyuntats) once again to bring it to life.

Most of this artist’s ink work has been done by Dyun, and she shares she’s not looking for anyone else to do the job. Anyone who wants their own permanent marks on their skin should study a tattooist’s work, as each has a different technique and style in designing.

“I was seeing a lot of Dyun’s work over the years and every time I compliment someone on their tattoos, they were done by him. When I started getting my ink done by Dyun, there really was no looking back,” she says.

“You should build a good relationship with a tattoo artist. You’re gonna have these things on your skin forever, you might as well have happy memories while getting them.” 

Photos by Wilmark Jolindon, Gab Loste, and Sean Xie for alike. Watch the alike X episode here.