EYE CANDY: South Korea’s Newest Tattoo Trend
Zihee, Seoeon, and Nando have turned delicacy into rebellion. They are just three of the many Korean tattoo artists who have coined the semi-surrealist second skin designs that have been legally (and illegally) dominating the inner ears and hidden body parts of South Korea’s youth. In a country where tattoos hold a heavy stigma, especially for women, these female artist use water color-fill and gentle design to fight the patriarchy.
Tattoos in Korea have a long history of being at minimum, a social taboo, and at worst a crime. Having a visibly excessive amount of tattoos in Seoul can ban you from entering a public bathhouse and removing your clothes-and labeled an act of public indecency. Stemming from a time when tattoos were categorized as solely being placed on the body of gangsters, many Korean Bath houses put such a rule in place as to protect conservative and traditional customs. But under Korean Law, only a doctor with a registered medical license can perform tattoos, leaving many skilled artists in their 20’s to take up illegal practices in their own shops.
These are more dainty and aesthetically pleasing tattoos than in the United States, where black and red ink reign supreme. Wes Anderson-esque, these tattoos are gracefully placed on the back of necks, inside of ears and folds of arms.
Zihee, Seoeon and Nando are part of the movement of young women making their tattoos revisionist and shaking up the traditional way tattoos have been viewed. They’re also responsible for a record number of tatts on young women, especially in South Korea. In a sense their work is youth body activsim – small statements of rebellion tattooed in tiny crevices behind the ear. Easy to hide but in plain sight, these pieces of work are a perfectly encapsulated pocket sized middle finger to authority.