Tattoos have long been a symbol of youth and rebellion, but people also get tattoos as a form of protest. There have been many individuals, groups, and cultures who have done this, so today we will look at the people of Myanmar and Hong Kong and the tattoos they’ve been receiving in regards to recent protest events. 

Masked and helmeted protestors by Samantha Fung
Hong Kong revolutionary by Samantha Fung

Hong Kong still struggles today to hold onto its independence from mainland China, but in the summer of 2019 the main island looked more like a war zone than a shopping and business dis-trict. Hong Kong and mainland police met hundreds of thousands of protestors in the streets over a period of months and the clashes turned violent quickly thanks to the police. Having been there myself I can attest to the fear people had of the police, but also the resilience, particularly in young people who didn’t and still don’t want their home to change for the worse. People in Hong Kong are especially worried to lose their freedom of speech. If they do that would mean people could no longer openly criticize the government and may even face being arrested for social media posts, particularly if they try to make their thoughts public. Because of the escalation in events, many have even fled Hong Kong, often to Taiwan, to escape Beijing’s reach. 

Gas mask and umbrellas by Cathy
Hong Kong Molotov cocktail by Cathy

Sadly, clashes have in fact stayed violent for a long time now; and specific protestors are being targeted even now by police, nearly two years later. Some are still taking to the streets, and even more to social media, but others are also getting tattoos. Some specific designs include protestors with gas masks and/or helmets, the iconic umbrella-turned-weapon, “free Hong Kong”, “Fight for Freedom”, Hong Kong flags, etc. Three artists (though there are many more) that are doing these tattoos as a form of protest are Samantha Fung at 59 Tattoo, Cathy at Star Crossed Tattoo, and Mike Chan at Lov-inkit Tattoo. 

Gas mask and helmet by Mike Chan
“If we burn you burn with us” by Mike Chan

Myanmar has been facing a military coup since early February (2021), and a group of young people from the Intha ethnic minority organized an all-day tattoo event to raise money for the CDM or Civil Disobedience Movement. This military coup began when democratically elected members of the country’s ruling party were deposed by Myanmar’s military which has stated the results of the November 2020 general are invalid. The military has used tear gas, flash bang grenades, rubber bullets, and in some cases even live rounds against protestors. In the first couple weeks at least 54 people were killed, mainly young people and teenagers, and at least 2000 were arrested, charged, or sentenced by the military. 

Hunger Games tattoo, photo by Robert Bociaga for CNN
Aung San Suu Kyi tattoo, photo by Robert Bociaga for CNN

Eight tattoo artists worked on dozens of protestors during the all-day event. They kept designs small and from flash tattoos already pre-made. The small pieces were designed for speed and to convey a message of unity. The options given were: the face of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the words “Spring revolution,” the phrase “Kabar Ma Kyay Bu” (which references a protest song and means “we will not forget until the end of the world”) and the well known “three-finger salute,” from “The Hunger Games” movies which has been adopted in Myanmar and Thailand as a symbol of protest and rebellion. The finger salute is often used at protests as well, but the most popular tattoo design here is the outline of Suu Kyi’s face.

Aung San Suu Kyi tattoo, photo by Robert Bociaga for CNN
Aung San Suu Kyi tattoos, photo by Robert Bociaga for CNN

Edited by Harrison R.

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