South Korea has a rich and varied culture. But the country still does not legalise non-medical licensed tattoo artists. People with tattoos are generally considered anti-social individuals who violate social norms and are criminals, gangsters, or juvenile delinquents. Only medical professionals are legally allowed to perform tattoo making procedures. The country law forbids tattooing without a valid medical license. The army, however, prohibits body art. There is a minimum of 2 years of imprisonment for those flouting the rule.
This practice comes in tandem with a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that defined tattooing as a medical service, indicating that "medical practices," including tattoos, can only be performed by licensed medical professionals.
Even K-pop artists tend to cover their tattoos to avoid potential repercussions while appearing on national television.
South Korea's youngest lawmaker Ryu Ho-jeong from the progressive minor Justice Party, has proposed a bill on legalising tattoo making for licensed non-medical professionals. The bill seeks to frame a licensing system that will the licensed non-medical workers to perform tattoo art on other people.
She held a press conference with other tattoo artists revealing her back full of removable sticker tattoos in a purple dress.
Ryu even posted K-pop group BTS member Jungkook' photo on social media to promote her bill for legalising tattooing by non-medical personnel. Deluged in a pool of criticism by the K-Pop fans for using the artist's photo to her political advantage, she issued an apology.
"Tattoos you can easily see on the streets are still illegal," she said, citing a 10-year-old court ruling that has prohibited tattoos by non-medical people is "too old for South Korea in the year of 2021."
She reasoned it's not because of the 'regulations on broadcasting review' Claims that tattoos harm ethical feelings or emotions or adversely affect young viewers are not persuasive in the face of freedom of artistic expression. However, ‘tattooing’ is still illegal. It was. The ‘system’ was not able to follow the changes in the world that respect the individuality and creativity of free individuals.
The bill named ‘Tattoo Up Law Enactment’ is aimed to protect tattooists and tattoo businesses and guarantees people’s right to health. Ryu stated in her social media post that the act directly affects people's right to health, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is responsible. The tattoo makers are responsible for maintaining sanitation and safety and completing the related education.
She further added that it is the law of solidarity. An artist who inked Hollywood stars such as 'Brad Pitt' and 'Stephen Yeun' stood before the trial, saying that safety alone is futile. The question is whether our artistic expression is really ‘illegal’.
The 28-year-old politician criticised the government for not changing the age-old laws and beliefs with time and ignoring the domestic tattoo artists acclaimed globally.
Doy is a leading Korean tattooist who has inked celebrities like Bradd Pitt and members of K-pop band EXO. He also led a campaign to change the 'strict' tattoo laws.
He stated, "On your way back home after tattooing Bradd Pitt there are no words to describe how proud you feel. But from the moment you arrive at the Incheon International Airport, you worry about the tattoo tools being found in your bag. If established tattoo artists like myself do not stand up and act for change this will be a never-ending cycle for all generations, especially for those who are starting their careers and have no power to bring change by themselves."
Nearly 20000 odd tattooists are vulnerable to prosecution and raids in South Korea.
Other least tattoo-friendly countries include Denmark, Japan, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, Sri Lanka and UAE.
As per South Korean laws, men between the age of 18 and 28 have to serve in the military for two years. Recently, a bill was passed in the South Korean Assembly allowing K-pop band BTS and other music artists to postpone their military service until the age of30.
It is a bold stride for change by the lawmaker in Korean tattoo culture and providing safety to tattoo artists.
Photo Courtesy: Lawmaker Ryu Ho-jeong’s office
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