Hong Kong tattoo convention aims to make its mark

HONG KONG (AFP) - Visitors flocked on Friday to a Hong Kong tattoo convention, the first to be held in the southern Chinese city where tattoos were once seen as a sign of triad gang membership.

The show features more than 30 artists from countries ranging from South Africa to mainland China.

It aims to challenge "that old-fashioned notion that it's just gangsters and sailors" who get tattoed, co-organiser Jay Foss Cole told AFP.

Hong Kong's lawyers, doctors and university professors all sport the skin designs, said Foss Cole, also known as Jay FC, and they also appeal to people in creative industries.

Visitors, many of whom wore revealing clothing to display their own prized body sketches, browsed through designs, chose new ones and checked out different marking pens and techniques.

Spectators were awestruck by the sight of four near-nude male models showcasing their colourful full-body tattoos in Japanese style.

"I got mine because I love it," said one of the models. The work took 12 hours.

Others sprawled on the beds or chairs of tattoo artists and watched intently as intricate designs were inked onto their skin.

Historically tattoos on younger Chinese have largely been the preserve of triad gangsters, but the designs have begun to gain popularity among the mainstream community in recent years.

"Young people are changing their minds, not like before when they thought only mafia members wore them. Now it's more like art," Beijing-based tattoo artist Qi Xulong, known as "Little Dragon", told AFP.

Foss Cole said Hong Kong's tattoo culture is improving. "There's more artists, there's better artists, there's more style, and there's never been anything like this," he said of the show.

The convention, he said, shows that Hong Kong "has arrived as a world-class destination for tattoos and tattoo artists".