Interview with Ru Hwan | Tattooing in Korea

Tattooing in Korea – is it legal? Is it illegal? That would be “yes” to both questions. “What? Wait. How can it be both legal and illegal at the same time?” In this interview with Korean tattoo artist Ru Hwan, we’ll find out more.

Technically speaking, tattooing is legal in Korea (yes, this article is about South Korea of course), but you’ll need to be a licensed doctor in order to perform this type of “skin surgery”.
Now imagine yourself that you’re at the end of six years of medical studies at the university, it’s time to decide which path to choose: should you become a GP, a skin specialist, a surgeon or perhaps you should go wild and chase your childhood dream of becoming a tattoo artist?
Just like in every other country in the world, people with medical degrees don’t become tattoo artists – they become doctors – and that’s a good thing, because we all need someone who might be able to cure us when we are sick, but some of us also needs creative persons that can create art on our skin every now & then.

Graduation day at the Medical University: "Should I become a doctor or a tattoo artist?"

Graduation day at the Medical University: “Should I become a doctor or a tattoo artist?”

Continue reading

The History of Tattoo Part 5: Japan

The History of Tattoo: Japan

I kind of gave away this information in the title already, but in courtesy of those of you who missed it: this is my fifth article on this subject and I’ll concentrate on the tattoo history of Japan.

The last article I published in this series was in January 2014. My plan back then was to publish the next one (the one you’re reading now) in April 2014, but that clearly didn’t happen. Well, as I’ve mentioned in some of my previous articles, they were originally written for a tattoo chain. Many years have passed since my original Norwegian article was published, so I had to re-write and update the info. What was originally just a short passage in an article, has now turned into this elaborate piece of reading. For those of you who wishes to read more, links to my previous articles, further reading and sources are provided.

In Japan there are several forms of tattooing, from the old bamboo techniques (tebori) to the modern machine tattooing (kikaibori), but they’re all covered by the Japanese word Irezumi (入れ墨).

A Small Vocabulary
 "Irezumi" (入れ墨, 入墨, 紋身, 刺花, 剳青, 黥 or 刺青) in Japanese, meaning "insert ink".
 "bunshin" meaning "decorating the body".
 "the Yakuza" (ヤクザ) - the mafia, the organized crime of Japan.
 "Horimono" - full body tattoo.
 "bokkei" - (or bokukei, meaning punishment by tattooing).

Continue reading

The History of Tattoo quoted in an article

One of my articles about the history of tattoo have been quoted in another article on the same subject. It’s always an honour to be quoted, especially when it’s from an article that I’ve spent many hours researching and writing. It’s a while ago since both mine and the Gizmodo article was published, but I thought I’d give it a shout out anyway (better late than tomorrow, right?).

gizmodo-faksimile

Facsimile from Gizmodo

If you’re interested, visit Gizmodo for their article and (of course) you can also read my article here in the blog. THis is the second time one of my articles on tattoos have been quoted. The first time was in a scientific paper.

P.S. I’ve started working on a new article on tattooing now (it’s a combined travel report/tattoo article) and, thanks to some inspiration from David Bennett by a comment he left me here in the blog, I’ll also begin to work on my next article in The History of Tattoo.

The History of Tattoo – Part 4: Biker, Chicano and Prison Tattoos

tattoo-topheader-biker-960x260-4

Biker, Chicano and Prison Tattoos

This is not a prison tattoo, but the tattoo of a woman I photographed on the street last year.

This is not a prison tattoo, but the tattoo of a woman I photographed on the streets of Oslo last year.

Since the 1960s the bikers were designated as the group most associated with tattoos – at some point they even surpassed the sailors on the pedestal, though the sailors originally were the ones that helped spread tattooing in the West. The style and content of biker tattoos have been radically different from traditional tattoos: their tattoos were almost exclusively black and they were made with thin lines, in a one-pin style, which usually has been associated with Chicano and prison tattooing.

Chicano tattooing began in the Pachuco gang culture of the 40s – and 50s in California, Texas , New Mexico and Arizona. These tattoos were originally made ​​by hand with a sewing needle dipped in India ink. Classical Chicano themes are Christ, the Virgin Mary and women.

«The terms Chicano or Chicana (also spelled Xicano or Xicana) denote Mexicans who grew up in the United States. However, these terms have a wide range of meanings in various parts of the world. The term became widely used during the Chicano Movement, mainly among Mexican Americans, especially during the movement’s peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although “Chicano” was often used to denote anyone with a Mexican American background, it was mainly applicable to the Tejano community.» (Online source 3)

Without a doubt the most classic Chicano subject is a little Pachuco cross tattooed on the hand between the index finger and the thumb. Once upon a time it was used to identify gang members and to show solidarity to the gang, while for outsiders the Pachuco represented crime and violence. For the inner circle however, Chicano tattoos represents loyalty to the community, to the family, women and God (one of the countless gods invented by humans).

Clown face/mask tattoos are common among gang members. They can have the following meanings:
“Laugh now, cry later”
“Play now, pay later”
“My happy life, my sad life”
“Smile now, cry later”
This style of tattoo is typical among Latin and Asian gang members. (Source 4)

QUINCY, IL - AUGUST 23: Scott, a member of the Illinois Nomads charter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, shows off a recent tattoo on his forearm during a Hells Angels rally August 23, 2003 in Quincy, Illinois. The flaming skull is a Hells Angels insignia. AFFA stands for "Angels Forever, Forever Angels." (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

QUINCY, IL – AUGUST 23: Scott, a member of the Illinois Nomads charter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, shows off a recent tattoo on his forearm during a Hells Angels rally August 23, 2003 in Quincy, Illinois. The flaming skull is a Hells Angels insignia. AFFA stands for “Angels Forever, Forever Angels.” (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Bikers. Many bikers acquired their first tattoos – who were either handmade by pricking or they were made ​​using rotary one needle pin machines (You can read more about the Stencil-Pens, later adapted to become a tattoo machine, in my previous post The History of Tattoo Part 2: The Americanization (Westernisation) of Tattoo). The biker tattoos (and Chicano) were often (but not always) done while people were serving prison sentences and after finishing the sentence, they brought the prison style with them to the outside of the walls (it’s not like they had a choice and could leave the tattoos behind…).

Typical biker tattoo imagery is very different from the traditional working class subjects: it is not patriotic, have not been affected by military designs, and are often clearly antisocial. Among the most classic biker motifs, you’ll find imagery like Harley Davidson Motorcycles and emblems, V-Twin engines, club logos, marijuana leaves, skulls, symbols and texts like; FTW (Fuck The World), born to lose, live to ride, ride to live, and “property of (bikers name) on female bikers.

On both male and female bikers, the tattoos are usually located on exposed parts of the body, since they are not a private form of expression as much as they are public comments. Biker tattoos also includes a highly literal system of communication within the biker community, and for those who recognize the imagery and mottoes, it also extends outside the groups.

1991. Strict Regime Corrective Labour Colony No.40. Kungur, Perm Region. The dagger through the neck shows that the prisoner committed murder while in prison, and that he is available to 'hire' for further murders. The bells on the feet indicate that he served his time in full ('to the bell'), the manacles on the ankles mean that the sentences were over five years. 'Ring' tattoos on the fingers show the status of the criminal when the rest of his body is covered. The 'thieves' stars' on the knees carry the symbolic meaning ‘I will not kneel before the police'.

1991. Strict Regime Corrective Labour Colony No.40.Kungur, Perm Region.
The dagger through the neck shows that the prisoner committed murder while in prison, and that he is available to ‘hire’ for further murders. The bells on the feet indicate that he served his time in full (‘to the bell’), the manacles on the ankles mean that the sentences were over five years. ‘Ring’ tattoos on the fingers show the status of the criminal when the rest of his body is covered. The ‘thieves’ stars’ on the knees carry the symbolic meaning ‘I will not kneel before the police’.  Photo: fuel-design (Source 6)

Prison Tattoos. In Europe, one can date the tradition back at least three centuries, but in the U.S. it is more uncertain. In the U.S., we see a strong correlation between Chicano tattoos and to a certain extent prison tattoos. The methods used are the same, with hand-made tattoos (or the “modern-day” of rotating machines made by cassette players, or parts of shaving machines combined with parts of a ballpoint pen and headphone cords). The prison tattoos are made ​​only with black ink.

Just as with the Biker and Chicano tattoos, Prison tattoos mark some sort of belonging to the outskirts of the accepted general direction of society.

In Russian prisons, “…the pain does deter even the most macho convict from covering his body, all at once, with meaningful pictures. Tattoos are created by instilling pigment in the skin with thousands of needle pricks. In the camps, the process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years, depending on the artist and his ambition, says Mr. Bronnikov. Because of prison conditions, tattoo artists have to improvise with materials and equipment. For instance, they will draw a picture on a wooden plank, place needles along the lines of the design, cover the needles with ink and stamp the whole tableau on the prisoner’s body. Another method is to slice the image onto the skin with a razor and daub the cut with indelible ink. Usually, prisoners manage to get an electric shaver and a syringe with a needle, which they jury-rig into a tattooing machine. Ink is hard to come by, so to make dye, artists will often burn the heel of a shoe, and mix the ash with the prisoner’s own urine — a practice convicts believe lessens the chance of infection.”[Source 5]

Sources:

1. Bodies of Inscription, Margo DeMello, Duke University Press, Durham&London 2000
2. Skin Shows – The Art of Tattoo, Chris Wroblewski, Virgin Books

Online Sources:

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicano
4. http://info.publicintelligence.net/CBSA-TattooHandbook.pdf
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_tattoo
6. http://fuel-design.com/russian-criminal-tattoo-archive/
7. Photo by Ron Scubadiver. http://ronscubadiver.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/lone-star-rally-galveston-texas/

Related posts:

Photo by Ron Scubadiver. Visit his blog at http://ronscubadiver.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/lone-star-rally-galveston-texas/

Photo by Ron Scubadiver. Visit his blog at ronscubadiver.wordpress.com

The History of Tattoo – Part 3: The Indians

The History of Tattoo by CardinalGuzman.wordpress.com

The History of Tattoo by CardinalGuzman.wordpress.com

Originally this was written as a school assignment about Body Art Among the Natives of America. If I’d followed a chronological order this article should have been published in between my previous two articles (you’ll find them both here: https://cardinalguzman.wordpress.com/tattoo/), but it simply didn’t cross my mind until afterwards…
From my first article in this series you’ll might remember (or you can look it up) that we, through archeological evidence can trace tattooing in Polynesia back to as early as 2000 BCE. You’ll also remember the stories about Captain James Cook and his crew and how they adopted the Tahitian word “ta-tu” or “tatau” when describing this practice. We also had a look at the early American history of tattoo, but I skipped the earlier part about the American history of tattoo – the one about the Indians (today more politically and geographically correct known as Native Americans).
This is the longest article in this series so far and it’s almost like a long list of cultural features among the different tribes and their tattoo techniques. I had to leave out a lot of information about the different tribes and the customs, but if you’re interested you can find more info in the link section.

As many of you already know I’ve asked readers for submissions of tattoo photos and people have sent me their pictures, but for this article I naturally had to find illustrations online (none of my readers are 1800’s native americans…) In the next couple of articles we’ll be looking at the history of tattoo in modern times and then I’ll use readers photos as illustrations.

Continue reading

The History of Tattoo Part 2: The Americanization (Westernisation) of Tattoo

Here’s the continuation in my series The History of Tattoo, originally written in Norwegian for an international tattoo chain. Did you miss The History of Tattoo Part 1: Polynesia and New Zealand? If so: I recommend that you read Part 1 first because, like most historical lessons, this one is also in chronological order. In the first part we learned about the Maori traditions and how Captain James Cook and other explorers & sailors unknowingly brought “ta-tu” or “tatau” from Polynesia & New Zealand to the Western world. Now we’ll have a look at the cultural appropriation and the growth that took place in these early days of tattoo. 

Continue reading

The History of Tattoo Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand

The History of Tattoo - Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand

The History of Tattoo – Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand

The History of Tattoo, Part 1: Polynesia & New Zealand:

In order to elaborate further on the subject The History of Tattoo (and how it reached such popularity in the West), we must first take a look at the explorers colonization and the missionary activities in the Pacific during the 17th and 18 century. Tattooing existed in Europe prior to the colonialists encounters with local people in Polynesia. Christian pilgrims, for example, had tattoos as souvenirs and confirmation of their belief, tattoos they had got on pilgrimages to the Holy Land as far back as the 16th century. Also the Celts practiced tattooing pre-Roman conquests.

Through archaeological evidence we can trace tattooing in Polynesia back to as early as 2000 BCE, and such evidence has been found on all the islands. Captain James Cook, a European explorer who sailed with the British navy, was the first who reported about Polynesian tattoo. This was in 1769, when he “discovered” Tahiti and in 1778 when he met Hawaiians. Cook and his crew wrote and made notes on subsequent trips, and Cook was the first Westerner to adopt the Tahitian word “ta-tu” or “tatau” when he described this practice (before that tattooing was referred to as dots and marks).

The tattoos they recorded includes lines, stars and other geometric designs, as well as scenes containing animals and humans, and the tattoos were worn by both women and men. By the time of the first European contact the motives was primarily linear and most likely had a genealogical and a protective function. Already in 1784, Cooks crew laid themselves before the natives needles to get tattooed, and unknowingly they therefore had a key role in bringing tattooing to Europe.

Wikimedia Commons: Maori Moko, scanned from John Rutherford: The White Chief (pre-1923)

Wikimedia Commons: Maori Moko, scanned from John Rutherford: The White Chief (pre-1923)

19th century voyages noted that the designs now included, in addition to plants and animals that were previously registered: rifles, cannons, dates and words in memory of deceased chiefs. These newer designs were probably introduced to the Polynesians by Cook’s crew. At this time, Polynesians were also tattooed by Western tattoo artists who worked on ships, where they used the indigenous’ technology.
After the Hawaiians adopted Western weapons, their tattoos, now influenced by Westerners, became exclusively decorative, and they were no longer required for protection. Without this early cross-contamination, it is doubtful that the tattoo would be re-established in Europe or that it would be perceived as anything other than some sort of primitive characteristics.
Captain Cook’s first visit to New Zealand was in 1769, and on that journey the ships own illustrator (Sydney Parkinson) drew pictures of the native tattoo – Moko. Moko is the linear facial tattoos that are worn by Maori men and women as a sign of status as well as association.
The Maori had a long tradition in which they preserved the deceased nobility’s tattooed heads, it is assumed that this was to keep the deceased’s memory alive. The heads were also seen as sacred, because they were of the opinion that the heads continued to contain the deceased’s Tapu, or magical qualities. In 1770, a mere year after the initial contact, the Europeans interest in these heads led to a head-to-arms trade that lasted until 1831 when it was banned by the colonial authorities.
This trade turned particularly scandalous during the tribal wars in the 1820s, the European demand for tattooed heads was at a historically high, and prisoners of war were at this time tattooed, beheaded and their heads were sold to European traders. As the sale of heads increased, the Maoris stopped preserving their friends heads, so that they would not fall into the hands of unscrupulous Europeans. For a period wearing a Moko actually meant that you risked being beheaded and that your head was sold to European traders.

Full facial moko, scetched by Sydney Parkinson, 1769. Wikimedia Commons

Full facial moko, scetched by Sydney Parkinson, 1769. Wikimedia Commons

Post-European contact, Moko was associated with Maori culture as a way for the natives of New Zealand to stand out from the Europeans who had settled there. In addition to the tattoos in Hawaii and Tahiti, Maori tattoos were also influenced by European contact.
Originally Maori tattoos were applied by cutting the skin and then rubbing the ink into the open wounds. After the Europeans arrived, sailors brought metal to the Maori, which put them in a position to adopt the stick method that was found in other parts of Polynesia.
European explorers also affected the tattoo culture in other parts of Polynesia.
The motives which originally contained detailed linear patterns, moved towards big, wide, black tattooed areas.
Despite all this the most lasting consequence of the contact between European explorers and Polynesian tattooing, was not stylistically. While this contact resulted in the re-introduction of tattooing in the West, it also led to the destruction of Polynesian tattooing through missionary activities. The assignments of these explorers was, after all, to learn about these “primitive” cultures and to pave the way for later civilization of these communities through the missionaries, who banned both tattooing, polygamy and other practices that were seen as uncivilized.
«Living tradition»

Moko, intricate patterns artistically tingled and carved on the body, even in the face – including eyelids – has a long tradition among the Maoris. It was a magical and religious art of the chiefs and warriors, but also women were decorated. Moko also created sexual power. Now, extensive moko on the face is only for the bravest, but large decorations elsewhere on the body is experiencing a renaissance in line with the renewed cultural and ethnic pride.
– The art of Maori Tattooing

Sources:
Punk and neo-tribal body art, Daniel Wojcik, University Press of Mississippi
Bodies of inscription, Margo DeMello, Duke University Press, Durham&London 2000
Skin Shows – the art of tattoo, Chris Wroblewski, Virgin Books

This was the first post in The History of Tattoo and later I will translate and publish the rest of the History of Tattoo, an article that I originally wrote on Norwegian for a tattoo chain. I’ll also update the article(s) and add some new stuff.

In the meantime you can read Tattoo Artist Magazines’ article on Horitomo ( I will cover Japanese tattoo history in a later article), or some of these articles:

Related articles

More about the history of tattoo: