At the end of last month, Ink Bomb 2014, a Seoul tattoo convention, was held at WAV on the Han River. Ink Bomb was an event that mixed a few unique subcultures in Korea. By far the greatest thing about the event was to see individualism -something very rare in a Korean culture of intense collectivism.
Although the event was scheduled to kick off at 12 on Saturday the 28th, a line of very excited Koreans and expats waited out in the hot sun for almost two hours before the event was allowed to begin. But once things got rolling, nothing could stop the experience. With tattoo artists from all over the world in attendance, it truly was a multicultural art event. By far, the most represented of the foreign countries was Japan, which has a very old and established tattoo culture dating back hundreds of years. However, Spain and various artists from the United States also had booths at the event. Along with the tattoo culture, music was also a central theme of Ink Bomb. The stage set up in the main hall was continuously playing underground music, from punk to hip hop, and even featured a rockabilly band. DJ’s kept the tempo up by spinning classics and keeping the vibe alive in between bands. Various live performances were also scheduled to take place.
However the biggest news that took place at the event was the lack of tattooing. The artists that traveled to Korea, at their own expense, were not allowed to do any tattooing due to it being an illegal act. Many people are unaware of the fact that administering a tattoo in Korea is actually illegal. The act of puncturing someone’s skin with a steel object is reserved only for medical certified individuals, such as surgeons and doctors. Walking around any of the stylish areas of large cities throughout South Korea various tattoo and piercing shops are in plain sight. However, similar to other Korean laws, such as prostitution and gambling, a blind eye is turned to tattoo establishments.
The Ink bomb convention however did not fare as lucky. Due to the heavy publicity leading up to Ink Bomb, the authorities had all of the information to stop any illegal activity from taking place. On Saturday the event was delayed by almost two hours as police made sure with the event planners that no illegal activity would take place. It was announced Sunday morning that all of the events that day were completely canceled.
Throughout the convention were large banners stating “fight for your right” which is a political statement calling for a change to the current Korean laws. Things have been changing slowly in Korea regarding tattoos. Nowadays, more young people in Korea can be seen showing off their ink as tattoos have separated themselves from the criminal connection that existed a generation ago. However, because of Korea’s deep rootedness in Confucianism, the laws on the book will probably stay until the current generation of tattoo enthusiasts assume a position of power.
Billy DeCola, an artist that came from Vancouver Canada, told us, “Rules are rules, if tattooing in illegal in S. Korea then the police were just doing their job preventing crimes from taking place.” Slightly upset with the weekend’s outcome, Billy still had this to say about Korea’s tattoo scene: “Tattooing is more accepted in the States so much that it’s gotten to the point where it’s not rebellious- it’s the norm. Just like buying a pair of jeans. So in a way, the tattoo scene in Korea is cool because it’s super underground. I had a great time in Korea and I’m thankful to have been a guest of the show, regardless of the outcome”.
Solid Nature x ElectRow Photo Gallery