Marked for life: South Korea's tattoo artists seek legalisation

Marked for life: South Korea's tattoo artists seek legalisation
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South Korean tattooist Doy counts Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt and members of K-Pop band EXO among his celebrity clients, but his delicate, detailed designs could land him in prison. Image Credit: AFP
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Now he is leading a campaign for the abolition of a law that reflects tattoos'; long-marginalised status in South Korea, where they were once associated almost exclusively with organised crime. Image Credit: AFP
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While tattooing itself is not illegal, it is classed as a medical procedure and may only be carried out by a fully qualified doctor - with the law setting a minimum two-year prison sentence for violators, although judges can impose lighter penalties. Image Credit: AFP
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Doy, whose real name is Kim Do-yoon, says the situation leaves the country';s 20,000-odd tattooists vulnerable to prosecution and random raids - as well as blackmail by malicious or dissatisfied clients. Image Credit: AFP
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Earlier this year, he established the country';s first tattoo artists'; union and will soon ask the Constitutional Court to legalise tattooing by non-doctors. But after media reports featuring his union activities, someone - who has not been publicly identified - filed a criminal complaint and Doy now faces a police inquiry. Image Credit: AFP
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According to the Korea Tattoo Association - a separate organisation to Doy';s union - at least a million people have inked their skin in the country and the illicit but growing industry is worth about 200 billion won ($170 million) a year. | Tattoo artist Seo Uri. Image Credit: AFP
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But despite their newfound popularity, tattoos can still carry negative connotations, especially at workplaces in South Korea, with public broadcasters often blurring them out. | Tattoo artist Seo Uri receives a tattoo from Kim Chan-jik at a studio in Seoul. Image Credit: AFP
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Medical doctors strongly oppose legalising tattooing, saying doing so would "endanger" Koreans. Getting inked by non-doctors could lead to "a serious infection or allergic reactions", an official at the Korea Medical Association said. Image Credit: AFP