Clients go from all over the world to see Kim Do-Yoon, a South Korean tattoo artist known for his delicate line work, in his calm, plant-filled workshop with huge windows. Octopus with tentacles unfurled, exquisite wildflowers on a forearm, and an everlasting depiction of an animal that will be treasured forever.
Brad Pitt and Han Ye-Seul are among the superstars who have worked with Mr. Kim, who goes by the name Doy.
In an inconspicuous structure in north-central Seoul, near a palace that dates back to the 14th century, there is no sign announcing his workshop. Customers are thoroughly screened, the blinds are closed during appointments, and he changes locations every two years.
His work is illegal in the country. Tattooing without a medical licence is punishable by fines of up to $40,000 or perhaps jail under a 1992 law. Controversial decorative tattoos are associated with organised crime and poor hygiene, according to critics. They also fear that tattoo artist, who they say lack appropriate training, could cause injury.
Efforts to lift the prohibition have been met with failure time and time again. The Seoul Constitutional Court affirmed the illegality of the tattoo industry in a 5-4 decision in March. It’s no secret that South Korean tattoo artists and consumers feel that the verdict goes against the grain of their experience, pointing to the country’s shifting societal norms and the resulting growth in the “k-tattoo” market.
Only a few countries in the globe still view tattoo artists as criminals even though tattoos have become more widely accepted in the rest of the world. Thousands of them toil away in secrecy, fearful of being discovered by the authorities. Mr. Kim, 41, admitted to working secretly in violation of the embargo, saying: “It’s been so long, it’s funny.”
There was no reason for the medical licence requirement, according to a 38-year-old tattoo artist apprentice in Seoul, Sohyun Lim.
“No one is going to medical school to become a tattoo artist,” she remarked.
Hidden In Plain Sight
The tattoo industry in Korea has grown tremendously in the last decade, according to tattoo artists.
In Seoul, it’s right in front of your eyes. Across the city, particularly in Hongdae, an arts-centric neighborhood, tattoo artists choose to occupy upper-floor office space. As long as you know where to look, Instagram is a great place to locate artists.
Because of social media, it’s simple to find Korean artists you’re interested in, she argues.
The k-tattoo, a word for the intricate, illustration-inspired tattoos that have become iconic among Korean artists, has also spread via social media. In Mr. Kim’s opinion, the k-tattoo industry has seen an uptick in new customers.
For example, stars like Jungkook of BTS and Jay Park have made tattoos more apparent in South Korea by wearing them whenever possible, which has helped to build a youth culture that is more enthusiastic about them.
Mr. Park’s first tattoo was a tribute to his former break dancing group, which he obtained more than a decade ago. Since then, he says, he’s lost track of the number of tattoos he’s acquired.
Mr. Park, 35, admitted that “it was a shock to a lot of people at first.” “However, as time went on and my career progressed, I began to win people over despite my tattoos, and they began to see it as cool.”
Some firms, he added, probably considered his tattoos as liabilities, and he had to cover them up when he appeared on Korean television.
More than half of South Korean adults surveyed by Gallup in June approve legalising marijuana. Results showed a generational divide: 81% of those in their 20s supported the bill, compared to 60% of those in their 40s.
A Centuries-Old Stigma
A European guy known as tzi, who lived 5,300 years ago, had the oldest known tattoos, according to a new study. They’ve discovered that tattoos were employed in ancient cultures for a variety of reasons, including ornamentation, safety, and punishment.
There have long been negative connotations attached to tattoos in South Korea, which are known as munshin. From 918 until 1392 A.D. the Koryo Dynasty in Japan forcibly tattooed the names of those who committed crimes or marked them as slaves on their faces and arms of their subjects. People with tattoos became social outcasts as a result of this punishment, which came just before the death penalty. In 1740, it was abolished.
Korean tattoo artists are on a whole other level pic.twitter.com/LfsUpGFhog
— kelly (@kelly_sux) July 2, 2018
In the 20th century, gangs inspired by Japanese customs adopted tattoos, reinvigorating the use of body ink as a symbol of criminality.
A number of contemporary tattoo artists in South Korea have stated that they no longer use images like dragons and Japanese imagery that are frequently demanded by criminals as inspiration for their work.
Seoul’s Apgujeong Rodeo, where stylish shops abound, is where Sanlee, who declined to disclose her last name, works. To dispel the myth that tattoos are reserved for a select few, she explained that she wanted to demonstrate that they were accessible to everyone.
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