This past weekend, tattoo artists from around the world traveled to Seoul for the Ink Bomb Tattoo Convention -- many at the expense of the organizers -- to work on excited collectors in the burgeoning South Korean tattoo community. However, that all came to a halt Saturday afternoon when the police raided the convention site and ordered that the show be shut down. Tattooing is illegal in Korea, and the government decided to enforce the ban this weekend.
I learned of the news from our friend Demetra Molina, who co-owns The Hand of Fate Tattoo Parlor in Ithaca, NY, with her tattooist husband Eddie Molina. Eddie was at the Ink Bomb convention to visit, and was giving Demetra a FaceTime play-by-play of what was going down. The police ordered the artists to clean up their booths and pack up. Many of the artists ended up taking booked clients (a number of them US military) back to their hotel rooms to work. In the end, the whole show ended up being cancelled, affecting vendors and performers as well as artists. Needless to say, a lot of money was lost.
Five police officers walked through the venue at WAV Bar and Bistro in Apgujeong, checking IDs, ordering artists to clear up their stands, and above all making sure no tattoo needles or ink were out, never mind being used. When asked to comment, a frustrated police officer only said, "Foreigners need to keep their passports on them. We need to take the ID numbers of Koreans and foreigners here, because tattooing is illegal." He refused to comment any further or give his name or badge number.
Moon Seun-dong is a lawyer who works for the tattoo convention, and who was following the police. "In Korea, tattoo artists giving tattoos is regulated by criminal law and medical law," he said, a fancy way of saying it's illegal. "People with bad emotions toward tattoos called the police." Moon was sympathetic to the cops, though, adding that they were only "doing their jobs." [...] This was not the first time the convention has been shut down.
Andrew Chubb, 31, was three-quarters of the way through a leg tattoo two years ago at Ink Bomb, when the police shut that one down. He had to go to a hotel room with the artist to have it finished. Last year, the police showed up but left peacefully, and many tattoos were done. This year there was no such luck.
Considering that the convention had been shut down before, it shouldn't be a surprise that police were sent to enforce the ban. But if going through legal channels of trying the change the ban will not work, perhaps the tactic of organizers is to wear law enforcement down. In any case, the take-away here for artists is to check up on the tattoo laws before booking the next tattoo show flight.