More than skin-deep
For some, tattoos are a sign of rebellion or simply just a fashion piece. But a growing number of people regard them as art, a secret language shared by a self-chosen community
Chinese convention has long associated tattoos with gangsters, violating the societal virtue of preserving our bodies out of respect to our parents. But in Hong Kong, tattoos are being redefined as works of art as the city explodes with tattoo shops whose clientele are increasingly young Hong Kongers.
"It is a culture of a long history and a medium of expression," said Mr Vince Yue Chun-kit, a tattoo artist and founder of The Company Tattoo, a tattoo parlour.
People are more accepting of tattoos as more celebrities publicly show them off, he said.
"David Beckham had a Chinese calligraphy tattoo done in Hong Kong, and it certainly has a huge effect on public impression towards tattooing," Mr Yue said.
"Local artist Louis Cheung Kai- chung ... showed his tattoo on television. People still love him, don't they?" said Mr James Lau Chi-long, another tattooist at The Company Tattoo. "The young generation is no longer wary of it."
Ms Mindy Mak Ching-yi, a 21-year- old frequent traveler, gets herself inked every time she travels. None of her friends criticize her tattoos, but she said the older generation may feel otherwise.
"My parents do not know about my tattoos. I think they will be mad if they find out about it," she said.
The first tattoo convention in Hong Kong was held in 2013, where artists from different countries showcased their work and made tattoos on the spot for interested visitors. The tattoos were evaluated by judges of the convention and the best artist was awarded.
Co-organizer of the International Hong Kong Tattoo Convention Mr Jay Foss Cole said in an interview that the convention aimed to challenge "that old- fashioned notion that it's just gangsters and sailors who get tattooed."
To many tattoo enthusiasts, tattoos are anything but a symbol of triads.
"Tattoo reminds me of my life motto - love the life you live, live the life you love," said Ms Mak.
Some people like Ms Mak think tattoos are messages inked on their skin; others regard it as a form of body art.
Like paintings which have different styles ranging from realism to abstract, tattoos can be classified into a variety of genres: Sketch, schoolwork, black-and- gray, tribal, geometry are some examples of tattoo styles. Generally, the type of stroke defines the type of tattoo, whether it is clean-cut or not, said Mr Lau.
Tattoos bond people of similar interests. Tattoo lovers discuss and appreciate each other's "trophies" within the tattoo community. Mr Yue said that tattoo culture is expanding as the tattoo community tries to spread its passion and to promote tattoos to the public.
"Tattoos make people confident. They symbolize a certain group of people and they feel good about being one of them," said Ms Anubis Lok Hau-kwan, a tattoo artist of another tattoo studio, Solo Tattoo.
However, related regulations in Hong Kong lagg behind the pace of promotion. Currently, there is only one law: the Tattooing of Young Persons Ordinance which states that it is illegal to tattoo a minor, unless for a medical reason. Offenders are liable to a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and three-month imprisonment.
Regulations on the tattoo industry are more developed in other countries. In the United States, tattoos laws vary by state. For example, in Connecticut, a tattoo must be performed under a doctor's supervision, where the industry is regulated by the state's health department. In New Jersey, tattooists have to be authorized by the American Academy of Micropigmentation before they can practice. Many states require a tatooist to be liscensed.
"It is certainly a good thing to have tattooists applying for licenses," said Mr Tommy Sierra, a Columbian tattoo artist based in Spain. "There are lots of rules and regulations in America for tattoo artists to follow... and it makes the industry more professional".
"In Hong Kong, it largely relies on the tattooist's professionalism," said Ms Lok. She added that the tattoo industry in Hong Kong is not well organized as "there is no official organization, nor government department to regulate the industry operation."
Some companies, such as Tattoo Temple, advertise health and safety standards, such as disposable equipment and organic inks.
It is not rare for Ms Lok to modify customers' tattoos because of low quality work performed by their previous tattooists.
"It is an individual decision. I am not affecting anyone just because I have a tattoo," said Ms Mak.
By Mari Chow
Edited by Joyce Wong
《The Young Reporter》
The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.
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