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Why Apo Whang-od is NOT Eligible for the National Artist Award

Explore the reasons why Apo Whang-od, the esteemed Igorot mambabatok tattoo artist from Kalinga, is not eligible for the National Artist Award.

 |  3 min read

Discover why Apo Whang-Od, the revered Igorot mambabatok tattoo artist hailing from Kalinga, falls short of National Artist Award eligibility. Photo: Robin Padilla

Apo Whang-od, the esteemed 106-year-old Filipina artist celebrated for her traditional hand-tap tattooing, known as "batok," finds herself outside the considerations for the National Artist Award. Hailing from the Butbut tribe of the Kalinga province and belonging to the Igorot community, this decision is rooted in the specific award criteria and the alignment of Whang-od's skills.

National Artist Award vs. GAMABA: A Distinctive Comparison

Let's dissect the differences between the National Artist Award and the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA), also known as the National Living Treasures Award.

National Artist Award: A Recognition of Contemporary Excellence

This award acknowledges individuals making a substantial impact on contemporary Philippine arts and culture. The categories encompass Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film, Architecture, and Design. Winners receive various perks, including cash rewards, monthly stipends, and the honor of a state funeral.

GAMABA - Safeguarding Tradition and National Living Treasures

GAMABA, or the National Living Treasures Award, pays tribute to those safeguarding Filipino cultural heritage, especially in traditional and indigenous arts. It recognizes individuals whose skills have reached an exemplary level, passed down through generations.

Whang-od's Challenge: Aligning Skills with National Artist Criteria

The pivotal question revolves around Whang-od's skills meeting the National Artist Award criteria. Victorino Manalo, Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), clarified that her expertise aligns more with GAMABA. Consequently, the decision was made - she won't be bestowed with the National Artist title.

"Unang-una, ang artistic field ni Whang-od ay hindi sa national artist papatak kundi sa GAMABA, Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan," Chairman Manalo emphasized during a press conference at the NCCA office in Intramuros, Manila.

He further explained, "Pero nagkaroon na nang discussion tungkol dun, hindi na-award si Whang-od," signifying that, after thorough discussions, Whang-od wasn't granted the National Artist Award.

Gender Talk and Artistic Excellence

In the midst of these considerations, discussions about potential gender bias in the National Artist Award selections arose. Chairman Manalo refuted these claims, asserting that the selection process prioritizes artistic merit over gender. Renowned National Artist for Dance, Alice Reyes, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that talent knows no gender boundaries.

Recognition Beyond the National Artist Award

Despite the absence of the National Artist nod, Whang-od's contributions haven't gone unnoticed. In 2018, the NCCA honored her with the Dangal ng Haraya Award, and in 2022, the Cultural Center of the Philippines recognized her with the HIYAS Award for Indigenous Art.

Notably, Michelle Dee paid tribute to Whang-od by donning an evening gown inspired by her during the recent Miss Universe 2023. Curious about this unique homage? Learn more here.

What's Next for Whang-od?

Discussions about Whang-od's recognition are still ongoing as she remains a GAMABA nominee. The committee is navigating the decision-making process. If successful, she stands to become a National Living Treasure, acknowledging her significant contribution to Filipino culture.

In the midst of ongoing deliberations, Apo Whang-od's journey continues, navigating the intricate path of preserving tradition in the Philippines.

For more insights on the appropriateness of getting a tattoo from Whang-od, you can explore this article.

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