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A South Korean Artist Is Breaking Taboos with Flower Tattoos

The ink of South Korea’s Zihwa is feminine—with a purpose.

by Mike Steyels
Sep 30 2016, 3:00pm

Images courtesy of the artist

Weightless petals and leaves wrap around lithe stems, all inscribed on skin in black linework—Zihwa, a.k.a., Ji Hae Park, is a floral arranger, but her medium is ink. Using her tattoo machine, she creates wispy bouquets that bloom on the body like ivy, sliding over the hip or stretching up the spine, accentuating the natural human form.  

Working out of the Reindeer Ink shop in Seoul's Hongdae district, Hwa is a relative newcomer to the game, and has been working there for about a year with her fiancee, who inspired her to become a tattooist. “I became his muse and he became mine,” she tells The Creators Project of her jump from graphic design to tattoo art.

Her work is created with a single needle, the thinnest available on market, and she’s grown so comfortable with it that larger needles are more challenging at this point. “I’ve been using it so long that a single needle now feels like a very thin pen,” Zihwa says.

Her style is not exactly divorced from what’s popular in the Korean scene, with other artists working in a similar vein. But she's particularly laser-focused on black flowers, spreading life in larger and more intricate designs than most. There are also many female tattooists in Korea, where the artform is growing increasingly common and world-renowned. Zihwa says she doesn’t come across many problems being a woman in the tattoo world, but the majority of her clientele are also female.

There’s a bias against tattooing in general, however. It’s actually illegal there and is still taboo with many older Koreans. While there was recently a push to bring it above ground, that seems to have lost traction. So she works to shine a positive, comforting light on the art, making her style counterintuitively political.

“I want to break down the prejudice against tattoos,” Zihwa says. “To express that tattooing is not disgusting.” To do so, she’s leveraging her femininity, and furthering the impact of her work with a portrait series. Soon to be published in book form, the photos are fashioned with floral patterned clothing, wallpapers, and fabrics—not to mention actual flower beds. And they all feature her tattoo style on prominent display, a mix of her ink and temporary tats. “I’m trying to be as feminine as possible.”

See more of Zihwa's work on Instagram.

Follow Mike Steyels on Twitter: @iswayski

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