Korea’s Illegal Underground Tattoo Scene

Korea’s Illegal Underground Tattoo Scene


I’m Grace Neutral,
a tattoo artist and activist. I don’t know if they’re more
freaked out by my tattoos or the fact that I’m wearing
a Burberry coat in a spa. I’m interested in ideas of
alternative beauty and pushing our boundaries of
positive body image. If you could never wear makeup again, how would you feel? I will die. To me, the human body
is a beautiful thing in all its forms. What Gracie could have looked like,
if she didn’t f**k her face up. I’ve travelled to South Korea to explore
their alternative beauty industry. I wanted to know why tattooing is illegal
here and meet the young Koreans embracing alternative ideas of
beauty and body image. The government estimate that there are more than 20,000 tattooists
working in illegal tattoo studios. I’m on my way to meet
South Korean artist Apro Lee at his illegal tattoo studio. I followed his career now for a few years and he’s been telling me
all about his underground shop, and how secretive he has to be through it. I’ve never been somewhere before where the art form that I practice
on a daily basis is actually illegal. So, it’s gonna be really interesting to find out more about
the whole scene here. Tell me about your studio. How long did you have this place? Just about two years now. As you know, we don’t really have
tattoo culture or tattoo history. Ten years ago,
I couldn’t buy any tattoo stuff. I didn’t know how to buy? Where to buy? In Korea, it’s illegal to tattoo
without a doctor’s licence. But, who’s going to be a tattooer
when they have a doctor’s licence? -Yeah, totally agree.
-That’s ridiculous. Right? The government over here is dismissing
this whole creative part of the process and that’s kind of insulting
my artwork, my trade by saying that you can’t do it,
but a doctor can. What generally is the attitude
towards you from the public? The adults or older people when they see someone with tattoos,
like myself, they look with contempt, as if we’re up to something bad. So I don’t really use
any public transport here. I use only taxi or my car. You have a really beautiful collection
of tattoos on your body. But one of my favourites is the noose…
around your neck. Tattooist is not a job in South Korea and I am doing it illegally. So I’m a criminal here. Right? So… this is the meaning. I love it so much, Apro. Thank you. I’ve got my little magpie from Apro. I am on a little tattoo high right now. Feel so good. Leaving Apro’s studio, I couldn’t imagine being forced underground
or censored for my beauty choices. It feels like mainstream culture makes
young people feel uncomfortable, if the beauty ideals
they express don’t fit in with the traditional standards of beauty. Apro’s had this amazing idea that we’re
going to go to this little photo shop. People get their photos taken
for passports, job applications. But the one thing that they do here is
they actually edit your face. So, we’re gonna go into one now and see if they can make the both of us
look like normal upstanding citizens. I just had my photo taken just like
you would when you’re at a school, you know, for the yearbook picture. And he’s photoshopping it and making me look normal,
taking away all my tattoos, all my scars. Going to change my eyes back to normal. Who would know at such an old age.? Whilst we were there,
an older customer arrived, who had some strong opinions
to share about my look. For a long time Korean people have not liked tattoos. Nowadays, some people do. Even back when President Jun was in power people who had tattoos were taken away
by the Samcheong education system. Old people particularly dislike it. I’m just being honest. She’s got a pretty face and nice body
but because of the tattoos, she’s ruined. There’s so much and
it can’t even be erased. That’s what I think. Yeah, I love it. It’s so weird.
It’s really hard for me to look at my face. Thank you. It’s so bizarre. What Gracie could have looked like,
if she didn’t f**k her face up. Being confronted with
South Korea’s feminine beauty ideals gave me some insight into the pressure
young people here are under to conform. I asked Apro if there was anywhere that
young people like him felt comfortable being themselves. He suggested a club called Mystik. So we made our way across the city. This is the other side of Seoul. It felt amazing to see people with radically
different looks to the usual K-pop style. People were enjoying themselves
in their own skin. You’re covered in tattoos. Right?
-Yeah. What did your parents think
when you got tattoos? -They hate me.
-They hate you. “You are not my son.” “Why did you do that?”, like that. That’s why I’m so sad. They are sad too. So, your mother, was she really upset? -Yeah and they were crying.
-She’s crying! Oh! Bless her. -For an hour.
-An hour! Good lord… And what about your dad? Dad? He never spoke to me… five years. Your dad hasn’t spoken to you
for five years? Just because of tattoos? Tattoo, my hair, and my beard. He doesn’t like me, yeah, that’s right. Mystik was full of young people
with their own ideas of style and beauty. And it opened my eyes to
the underground tattoo scene in Seoul. These people embody youth rebellion. And tattooing is a big symbol of that. They represent the subculture. The new generation flying the flag
for alternative beauty, by forming a scene and a community
where they can be themselves, despite Korean society’s rejection
of alternative beauty. It’s a club called Mystik in Seoul
I met a girl called Solji. I was immediately transfixed by her. She’s covered in tattoos. I wanted to find out more.

80 thoughts on “Korea’s Illegal Underground Tattoo Scene

  1. Got tattooed at 15 havent stopped wont stop, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, lost relationships bc of them and gained. Moral is if you want one get one

  2. Why was she using " " when saying "normal". I'm sorry but having a blue eye isn't what you typically call normal so her using the quotation symbol was ironic. Yes, you are free to do whatever you like to your body and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. However, every culture has their own beauty standard, this is wrong but it's just how it is. I personally do not mind people having tattoos, I think they are very pretty on done well. But just because something is normal to you doesn't mean it's normal to them, and trying to make it normal to them is hypothetical. Why ? Because you want others to accept you the way you are but you want people to change their own views. Weird.
    I am sorry if i offended any butt hurt people. Not trying to start a fight or anything. I am simply stating my opinion. Thank you

  3. Go ask the Japanese whats underneath those Tattoos? Portuguese SLAVE Tattoos. Japan was a Portuguese, British Colony, Whorehouse, Slave depot. They were Tattooed and sold to S. America and the Spanish colony of California. Thats why the only place in America where there are Japanese people are in the former Spabnish colony of Japan. Chinese Slave Tattoos are from the Mongols/Ming Dynasty and British Colonies.
    Both Japan and China have been Colonies of Europeans dor over 500 Yrs. Korea has NEVER been a Colony.., the so called "Hermit Kingdom " by European Colonizers.. Aristocracy and Jews. Korea Destroyed their Ships, Navys, and Expelled them.
    Korea only traded with MERCHANTS, Artists, Writers, Scientists, Artisans, Craftsman. Thats how so much of Koreas Culture is in the West since the 1500s.

  4. I don't think it's illegal anymore. Soojin from the girlkpopgroup (g)i-dle has one and jimin from the boykpopgroup Bts.

  5. it's so sad to see that an art form that literally presents who you are to the world is banned. Tattoos are a representation of how a person sees themselves and they are a show of trust, I feel. It's a waste that something so beautiful is presented like something terrible.

  6. Its not really illegal its just not licensed therefore if you get infected or anything worse everything is on you and not the tattoo parlour responsibility

  7. Growing up my parents didn’t sound to keen about tattoos or the culture surrounding it. By the time I entered college and got my first small tattoo and called my dad he just laughed and said, “so what’d you get?” After I got bigger more prominent pieces he said, “I always had a feeling you’d get them, I just didn’t want you to get them too young and regret what you’d have on your body.” I’m very well aware of the support I have coming from an Asian family. I hope young adults in South Korea can change the stigma for future generations!

  8. I’m Muslim and I’m from Pakistan. I want tattoos so bad but my parents don’t really care if it’s my choice and stuff like that they just care about what other people are going to think. They care too much of what others are going to say over their say about my tattoos . If that makes sense 😂

  9. "The human body is a beautiful thing" and you destroyed it with your body alterations. You looked so much better in your younger photo

  10. Yeah I’ll stick with my parents and not have tattoos they aren’t my personal taste but I did find this interesting!

  11. You get tattoos, especially of demonic figures, you are picking up demons. Believe me, I have expelled demons out of people by the authority of Jesus Christ before.

  12. aka Koreans refused to get educated and get a license so they can stop handing out free transmittable diseases around, YOU LIKE HIV? GET A TATOO IN KOREA LOL

  13. Over the past 20 years tattoos habe came a long way in America, when i was younger i was avoided in public like i was death reincarnated, a criminal, or psycho. I started my process to rebel against the so called norm and to feel more complete as a individual. Not as a fashion statement or to be "cool" i couldn't imagine having to be completly underground.

  14. I hope I don’t get shot down in flames for going off subject, I’m not sure if this is appropriate in these times, but I have to say, Grace is sooooo beautiful. Obviously I mean physically, but her inner beauty is, to me, devastatingly beautiful. The world needs ALOT more Grace Neutrals…..I feel we wouldn’t be burning the house down as we sit on the sofa so much.
    Dean
    South Wales

  15. No wonder be come to America shit seems like it's one thing after another. Woman being abused in middle east, china and Korea. Holy shit fuck that bro. Country ran by insecure men with small dicks need that kinda control and power over individuals lol. Soon the next generation with change things like they did in america. We can get tattoos, woman vote etc

  16. I'll go there and walk around just so everyone can think of me as some badass American outlaw. Fuck outta here with your archaic beliefs.

  17. Youre really a very nice person. That was so nice of you to get a tattoo from him there. Sorry for them… I like what youve said in another video of you: "You can get a plastic surgery at 16, but you cant be a tattoo artist" or something like that. It really makes you think….

  18. I just discovered your videos and I’m loving them all! Hooked. Thank you for bringing us such awesome videos and new knowledge 😘

  19. Clothes are cool, but the fashion industry and lifestyle can be lame. Tattoos are cool, but the industry and lifestyle can be lame.

  20. honestly, tattoos aren’t really my cup of tea, but i would someday want one. that is, once i get over the fear of it hurting like a million needles are puncturing me. i would only want a small one but with meaning. like a moon or a heart because me and my mom always say “i love you to the moon and back.”

  21. I wonder if being tattoeed is something that needs being communicated when starting a new relationship or getting naked together for the first time. Would one need to fear a negative reaction towards one's tattoos?

  22. Kinda hate how it’s illegal. Because you can get it wayyyy worse doing surgery. Like the skin could catch fire or you could wake up during. But a tattoo could be removed with a laser, and you are conscious during the process. But like, you could have baddd scarring from surgery

  23. psst these guys would be surprised how common tatoos are
    yea it's illeagal but tatoo shops and artists are literally everywhere
    most of koreans I assume wouldn't even know it's illeagal

  24. No wonder the place I got my tattoo at in korea looked like a dog house never knew it was illegal to get a tattoo in South Korea lmao you learn something new every day.

  25. Ok…prejudice aside, getting an illegal tattoo is bad ass. It makes them more special, I’m sure that Koreans don’t have a dump truck of trash tattoos they regret getting

  26. You’re going to look like hell as you advance in age, especially when reaching your 50’s and absolutely pathetic in your 60’s, should you live that long.

  27. always wanted to see more of the underground/alt scene in Korea…it's beautiful. hope one day I'll be able to travel there and get a tattoo 😍

  28. I think people are missing the point of why they feel so negatively about tattoos…I'm sure if you associated having a tattoo with physically being ripped away from your family and life you know just for having one you'd be a little hesitant as well…

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