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Tattooists using protest-themed designs to support Hong Kong activists

One artist does not charge clients who want a design featuring the helmets, goggles and masks used by protesters.

A woman who goes by the single name Mary takes a rest after receiving a tattoo in Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)
A woman who goes by the single name Mary takes a rest after receiving a tattoo in Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

By Kelvin Chan, Associated Press

Even tattooists are joining the protests in Hong Kong, using their art to pay their own tribute to demonstrators.

Mike Chan is one tattooist who has adapted his work to the current political stand-off with Beijing, drawing a design on his customer’s thigh of a figure wearing a helmet, goggles and mask, the wardrobe of choice of street protesters.

Dipping his needle into pots of black, red and yellow ink, Mr Chan hunched over his client’s leg as he painstakingly brought to life the image of a Hong Kong protester clad in protective gear.

Using his art is Mr Chan’s way of contributing to Hong Kong’s anti-government protest movement, which has consumed the semi-autonomous Chinese territory for months.

While groups of hardcore protesters tangling with riot police have become the movement’s most visible symbol, others are using skin and ink to show their support.

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A client chooses a tattoo image depicting protective gear-wearing protesters (Kin Cheung/AP)

“I am actually just a peaceful protester,” said Mary who was getting her first tattoo.

“I really want to go to the front line, but I don’t have the courage yet to stand and fight against the government at the front because I’m very frightened.”

She chose her thigh because she could easily cover it up.

She would reveal only her first name because she did not want anyone she works with to find out.

Many protesters have sought to conceal their identities with face masks to avoid being identified, out of fear of arrest.

Hong Kong’s protest movement erupted in June in opposition to an extradition bill that would have sent suspects to stand trial in mainland China, and later expanded to include full democracy and police accountability.

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Tattoo artist Mike Chan’s needle buzzes gently as he draws a design on his customer’s thigh (Kin Cheung/AP)

Rallies have frequently ended in mayhem, with hardcore protesters wearing goggles and gas masks throwing bricks and firebombs at police armed with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons.

Now in its fifth month, the unrest has polarised the city.

Mary, 29, said she has taken part in mass protests that involved peaceful activity, such as singing along to the movement’s anthem.

But she added: “I really admire front-line protesters who fight at the front and are not afraid of getting arrested or being beaten up.

“Not everyone has this courage.”

I do these resistance tattoos free of charge because I see this as part of protesting Mike Chan, tattooist

Mary said she had been thinking about getting a protest tattoo for about two months.

She hoped that it would inspire her friends to get them too.

Mr Chan, who has been working as a tattoo artist for two years, said demand took off after he started doing the protest tattoos for free in July, though it has tapered off more recently.

“I do these resistance tattoos free of charge because I see this as part of protesting,” said Mike Chan, comparing himself to supporters handing out free water bottles during rallies in Hong Kong’s sweltering heat.

He offers a few dozen variations of the mask and goggles figure for free and has done about 70 of them.

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Hong Kong photo, tattoo artist Mike Chan applies ink to the leg of a client (Kin Cheung/AP)

“I want to give them a choice, not just like a stamp that’s all the same,” he said.

He charges for other protest-themed tattoos such as slogans like Free Hong Kong and Fight For Freedom done in calligraphy, because they take more time.

Tattoos in Hong Kong used to have unsavoury connotations, usually signifying that the bearer was a member of an organised crime gang.

But Mr Chan and Mary say those attitudes have changed in recent years and their acceptance as an art form has grown.

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Mike Chan, a tattoo artist, takes a picture of his work on a client’s leg (Kin Cheung/AP)

After about half an hour, Mr Chan was finished and Mary showed off her thigh, now decorated with a stylised figure of a protester wearing a yellow helmet, goggles and respirator mask with pink filters.

Even though it is permanent, Mary said she would never regret it.

“Because of what has happened over the past few months, you actually can’t speak out much or do anything much,” she said.

“This is the only thing that you can do to remember this for the rest of your life.”

PA

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