Marked for life: South Korea’s tattoo artists seek legalisation

Tattoos have become more mainstream in recent years, championed by K-pop stars

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South Korean tattooist Doy counts Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt and members of K-Pop band EXO among his celebrity clients, but his delicate, detailed designs could land him in prison.Image Credit: AFP
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Now he is leading a campaign for the abolition of a law that reflects tattoos’ long-marginalised status in South Korea, where they were once associated almost exclusively with organised crime.Image Credit: AFP
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While tattooing itself is not illegal, it is classed as a medical procedure and may only be carried out by a fully qualified doctor – with the law setting a minimum two-year prison sentence for violators, although judges can impose lighter penalties.Image Credit: AFP
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Doy, whose real name is Kim Do-yoon, says the situation leaves the country’s 20,000-odd tattooists vulnerable to prosecution and random raids – as well as blackmail by malicious or dissatisfied clients.Image Credit: AFP
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Earlier this year, he established the country’s first tattoo artists’ union and will soon ask the Constitutional Court to legalise tattooing by non-doctors. But after media reports featuring his union activities, someone – who has not been publicly identified – filed a criminal complaint and Doy now faces a police inquiry.Image Credit: AFP
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According to the Korea Tattoo Association – a separate organisation to Doy’s union – at least a million people have inked their skin in the country and the illicit but growing industry is worth about 200 billion won ($170 million) a year. | Tattoo artist Seo Uri.Image Credit: AFP
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But despite their newfound popularity, tattoos can still carry negative connotations, especially at workplaces in South Korea, with public broadcasters often blurring them out. | Tattoo artist Seo Uri receives a tattoo from Kim Chan-jik at a studio in Seoul.Image Credit: AFP
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Medical doctors strongly oppose legalising tattooing, saying doing so would “endanger” Koreans. Getting inked by non-doctors could lead to “a serious infection or allergic reactions”, an official at the Korea Medical Association said.Image Credit: AFP

Agencies / GULF NEWS

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