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Tattoos still taboo in Korea


By Joel Lee


Police raided an international tattoo convention in Seoul at the weekend to make it clear to everyone that tattooing is illegal in Korea.

The "Inkbomb Tattoo Convention" at WAV Bar and Bistro in Apgujeong June 28-29 was the seventh annual event embraced by tattoo artists, hip-hop artists, punk bands, cosmetic companies and other international performing artists.

The event's official website (www.inkbomb.co.kr) says the convention is the "best place to grasp the sub-cultural desires of contemporary young people."

On Sunday afternoon police ordered the artists to clear their stands where tattoo needles, ink and other equipment were displayed.

Allison Lee from Ilsan city told Groove Korea, a cultural magazine for expats and foreigners: "I find it astonishing that they have built this country to what it is but can't allow for a little bit of ink to be tattooed on consenting adults."

Martina Stawski of "Eat Your Kimchi" blog said, "In Korea, you can shave your jawbone, slice your eye socket open for bigger eyes, adjust your nose and breasts as you please, but drawing on your body is deemed crazy and illegal.

"This old-fashioned attitude needs to change, considering Korea openly supports other forms of body adjustment."

The tattoo artists, who came to Korea with a long list of appointments, reportedly had to move to undisclosed locations with their clients.

Korea and Japan are the only countries where tattooing is illegal. Under criminal and medical law, only licensed doctors can perform tattooing on their "patients."

Police routinely raid tattoo shops. Critics say the government's conservative stance is because of potential health risks from unregulated operations, doctors' vested interests, and "moral hazards."

The traditional Korean view is that tattooing should be taboo because gangsters or people trying to evade military conscription often tattooed their bodies. But the stereotype is disappearing, with more ordinary people choosing tattoos as a form of self-expression and a fashion statement.

It is common these days for Korean women to tattoo their name, or an expression, on their wrist, waist or top of their foot.

According to the "Association of Korean Tattooists," more than a million people in Korea have tattoos. There are many "illegal" tattoo shops in Seoul, concentrated in Hongdae and Itaewon.

Association president Jang Joon-hyuck told Joongang Ilbo, "Korean tattooists have good hands, so they're recognized globally like the break-dancers. But because it is illegal, it creates more problems in a shadowy area, well as being a blind spot for taxation."

Recently, there has been an effort to legalize the industry. New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) representative Kim Choon-jin made a motion to legalize tattooing last December.

The proposed bill allows tattooing by licensed artists in government-recognized schools, and prohibits tattooing on underage individuals. But the medical associations say they oppose the bill because of potential health risks from bleeding, blood poisoning and tissue damage.

Tattoo artists say such risks are low with proper hygiene in place.



Korean Language

타투, 아직도 한국에선 타부

경찰이 지난 주말 타투가 한국에서 불법이라는 것을 알리기 위해 국제 타투 컨벤션이 들이닥쳤다.

압구정에서 열린 “잉크 밤 컨벤션”에는 타투 아티스트, 힙합 아티스트, 펑크 밴드, 코스메틱 회사 그리고 다른 공연 미술가들이 참여했다.

이벤트의 공식 웹사이트는 컨벤션이 “현대 젊은이들의 서브-문화적 욕구를 읽는데 가장 좋은 무대”라고 말한다.

일산에서 온 앨리슨씨는 그루브 매거진에게 “한국이 이렇게 발전했음에도 불구하고 성인들이 합의 하에 몸에 잉크를 조금 문신하는 것에 이렇게 반대하는 것을 믿을 수 없다”라고 말했다.

마르티나 스타브스키씨는 “한국에서는 턱을 깎고 눈을 수술하고 코와 가슴을 성형하면서 몸에 그림을 그리는 것을 미친 불법행위로 간주한다”며 한국에서 다른 몸을 개조하는 행위를 허용하는 만큼 구식 사고방식을 버려야 한다고 말했다.

한국과 일본은 전 세계적으로 유일하게 문신이 불법인 나라들이다. 허가를 받은 의사들만 문신을 시술할 수 있다. 경찰은 주기적으로 타투숍들을 급습한다.

하지만 근래에 들어 일반인들도 문신을 많이 하며 이제 타투는 개성을 드러내는 표현이자 패션이 되었다.

“한국문신가협회”에 따르면 한국에는 100만명 이상의 사람들이 문신을 했다. 홍대와 이태원엔 아직도 많은 타투숍들이 불법적으로 영업을 하고 있다.

협회장 장준혁씨는 한국 문신가들의 손 기술이 좋아 세계적으로 인정받는다고 말했다. 하지만 불법인 이유로 음성적으로 거래가 이뤄지고 세금도 내지 않는 등 폐해가 많다는 것이다.

새정치민주연합의 김춘진의원은 작년 12월 문신을 합법화하는 “문신사법(제정안”을 재발의했다. 관련 학과를 졸업하거나 고등기술학교에서 1년 이상의 교육을 이수한 자에게 문신을 시술할 수 있도록 하는 법안이다. 하지만 의료계는 감영 등의 위험을 이유로 법안을 반대하고 있다.

타투 아티스트들은 시술이 청결하게 이뤄지기 때문에 그런 문제는 거의 없다고 말한다. 




By Joel Lee


Police raided an international tattoo convention in Seoul at the weekend to make it clear to everyone that tattooing is illegal in Korea.

The "Inkbomb Tattoo Convention" at WAV Bar and Bistro in Apgujeong June 28-29 was the seventh annual event embraced by tattoo artists, hip-hop artists, punk bands, cosmetic companies and other international performing artists.

The event's official website (www.inkbomb.co.kr) says the convention is the "best place to grasp the sub-cultural desires of contemporary young people."

On Sunday afternoon police ordered the artists to clear their stands where tattoo needles, ink and other equipment were displayed.

Allison Lee from Ilsan city told Groove Korea, a cultural magazine for expats and foreigners: "I find it astonishing that they have built this country to what it is but can't allow for a little bit of ink to be tattooed on consenting adults."

Martina Stawski of "Eat Your Kimchi" blog said, "In Korea, you can shave your jawbone, slice your eye socket open for bigger eyes, adjust your nose and breasts as you please, but drawing on your body is deemed crazy and illegal.

"This old-fashioned attitude needs to change, considering Korea openly supports other forms of body adjustment."

The tattoo artists, who came to Korea with a long list of appointments, reportedly had to move to undisclosed locations with their clients.

Korea and Japan are the only countries where tattooing is illegal. Under criminal and medical law, only licensed doctors can perform tattooing on their "patients."

Police routinely raid tattoo shops. Critics say the government's conservative stance is because of potential health risks from unregulated operations, doctors' vested interests, and "moral hazards."

The traditional Korean view is that tattooing should be taboo because gangsters or people trying to evade military conscription often tattooed their bodies. But the stereotype is disappearing, with more ordinary people choosing tattoos as a form of self-expression and a fashion statement.

It is common these days for Korean women to tattoo their name, or an expression, on their wrist, waist or top of their foot.

According to the "Association of Korean Tattooists," more than a million people in Korea have tattoos. There are many "illegal" tattoo shops in Seoul, concentrated in Hongdae and Itaewon.

Association president Jang Joon-hyuck told Joongang Ilbo, "Korean tattooists have good hands, so they're recognized globally like the break-dancers. But because it is illegal, it creates more problems in a shadowy area, well as being a blind spot for taxation."

Recently, there has been an effort to legalize the industry. New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) representative Kim Choon-jin made a motion to legalize tattooing last December.

The proposed bill allows tattooing by licensed artists in government-recognized schools, and prohibits tattooing on underage individuals. But the medical associations say they oppose the bill because of potential health risks from bleeding, blood poisoning and tissue damage.

Tattoo artists say such risks are low with proper hygiene in place.



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