Thursday, May 19, 2022

Black market tattoos in S. Korea: “No one’s trying to go to medical school to become a tattoo artist,”

 Tattooing is illegal (but tattoos are not) in S. Korea.  The NY Times has the story:

Tattoos, Still Illegal in South Korea, Thrive Underground. Tattoo artists, long treated as criminals for their work, say that it is time to end the stigma against their business.  By Christine Chung

"Under a ruling that has been in place since 1992, tattooing without a medical license can result in fines of up to $40,000 or even imprisonment. Opponents of decorative tattoos have invoked concerns about longstanding associations with organized crime, as well as fears about inadequate hygiene and potential harm inflicted by tattoo artists, who they say lack adequate skills.

"Attempts to overturn this ban have repeatedly failed. In March, the Constitutional Court in Seoul reaffirmed the tattoo industry’s illegality in a 5-to-4 ruling. South Korean tattoo artists and customers believe that the ruling is at odds with reality, citing drastically changed social norms that have fostered a thriving underground industry, greater openness and acceptance of tattoos, and rising international demand for what are known as “k-tattoos.”

"While tattoos have grown in acceptance in most parts of the world — exceptions include several Islamic countries — South Korea remains one of the few where the artists are treated as criminals. Tens of thousands of them work in secret here, under constant threat of exposure to law enforcement.


“No one’s trying to go to medical school to become a tattoo artist,” she said.


"Mr. Kim is the founder of a 650-member tattoo labor union that advocates rights of artists. Legalization would create safer, more sanitary environments for both customers and artists, he said.

"Tattoo artists often meet clients alone and trust strangers to keep their secret. Female artists are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. In the past, the police have conducted sweeps rounding up artists, Sanlee said. Rival shops have been known to flag artists to the police.

“Since what we’re doing is illegal, we’re in the blind spot,” she said. “Because of that, there are many people that are exploiting the situation.”

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