‘Respect the art’: Hong Kong tattoo convention hopes to break stigma about body ink

Artists say society is more open to tattoo culture, but some still face disapproval from older generation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 8:03am

Hong Kong is more open to tattoos as the city plays host to one of the largest tattoo conventions, but the fight against society’s deep-rooted stereotyping of people with body ink is still an ongoing one, enthusiasts say.

This year’s Hong Kong China International Tattoo Convention, which opened Friday, is the largest ever with 209 tattoo artists worldwide – from Taiwan, Poland, and Spain to South Africa.

Local tattoo artist Gabe Shum, organiser of the event – into its fourth year – said he was expecting attendance to at least be double the 4,000 visitors last year, as more than 5,000 regular tickets at HK$180 each were already snapped up online.

“The fact that we are able to hold a much larger scale convention shows that society is more open to the art of the tattoo. Much less people relate tattoos to gangsters now,” Shum said.

“We will continue to push for a greater appreciation of tattoos as a form of body art.’’

Jimmy Ho Wai-man, 70, one of the most senior tattoo artists in Hong Kong, was exhibiting his drafts of tattoo art for the first time at the event. Ho said much has changed since he began picking up his inking skills at the age of 13.

Pointing to a girl walking by with both legs covered in colourful animal tattoos, Ho said: “Look at people around here – that would be unimaginable in my time.’’

Ho, whose father was the first in Hong Kong to open a tattoo shop in the 1940s, said people used to look down on their jobs as those with tattoos were seen as related to triads.

“Now I feel much more respected,” he said.

My girlfriend’s family did not let me enter their house again after finding out I have tattoos, but I will prove to them in time that I am a capable man, tattoos or no tattoos
Beaa Li, tattoo enthusiast

Cobybabe, a 35-year old local artist who quit her job in a salon to become a tattoo artist two years ago, said: “More young women like myself are becoming courageous enough to pursue our dreams as female tattoo artists.’’

Apart from artists exhibiting their drafts and photos of past work, nearly half of the booths were also offering walk-in or pre-booked inking services.

Hongkonger Beaa Li, with over 20 tattoos covering his arms and legs, came to the convention to complete an unfinished tattoo on his back, done by an Austrian artist in Taiwan. The same artist was at the convention.

“I cannot fly to Austria, so I am glad that he is here to continue beautifying the image,” Li said.

“My girlfriend’s family did not let me enter their house again after finding out I have tattoos, but I will prove to them in time that I am a capable man, tattoos or not,’’ he said.

Ronnie Ren-yue, 21, a social sciences student from the University of Hong Kong, was standing outside a booth considering whether to get a Tibetan pattern tattoo in addition to five tattoos already on her arms and back.

“My mom does not want me to get more tattoos as she worries that it will be difficult for me to get a job if my future employer finds out, but I told her I would not want to work for an employer who discriminates people with tattoos,’’ Ren said.

The three-day event at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal is opened until this Sunday (October 16) from noon to 10pm.