Tattoos, body art gain popularity but face quality issues

Bobek Tattoo, ink color varieties and sketches

The culture of tattoos and body art in the Czech Republic has come a long way since the Velvet Revolution, but the industry continues to face challenges in the market today.

Prague houses a variety of tattoo parlors, though few are well-known. As the industry grows, studios such as Tribo Tattoo and Piercing and Bobek Tattoo play significant roles in introducing this new culture to the city.

Tribo opened its doors in 1996, beginning the tattoo culture revolution in Prague. The industry faced serious challenges then, when tattoos and piercings were associated with criminals, says Tribo founder Michal Burda.

“Dealing with the authorities was hard,” Burda says. “It took a lot of paperwork to convince them that our work was done in a clean, safe environment and that we weren’t going to kill anyone.”

The lack of available tattoo information also hindered acceptance in the 1990s. The studio relied on a few tattoo magazines from other countries. Burda traveled to Western European countries to gather information and find inspiration.

Eleven years later, the tattoo industry in the Czech Republic has gained popularity. Tattoo information fills the Internet, books and publications. New studios are appearing across the country, and artists are traveling and collaborating on designs.

In addition to Tribo and Bobek, Prague includes a number of other well-known tattoo shops such as One Love Tattoo, Aries, Prague Ink and Alien. These shops often host guest artists and are home to several world-renowned, award-winning artists such as Petra Hlavackova and Adam Kremer.

“In the Czech Republic, there’s something like a boom right now, you know, more and more people doing it,” says Bobek Tattoo artist Jan Mraz, who is completing his second year with the studio. “It’s getting to be more and more easy because of machines and all of the information on the Internet.”

The boom in the industry has led to a number of tattoo conventions around Europe, such as the Skin Art Expo in Belgium and the International Tattoo Convention in Frankfurt. These conventions give artists the opportunity to collaborate and see quality work. In June, Mraz and his colleagues, including founder Peter Bobek, will travel to Krakow, Poland, for the annual TattooFest.

“Poland has a really huge scene, a lot of interesting people are working there,” Mraz says. “We also go to Brussels and maybe to Berlin in August.”

Tattoo culture as a whole no longer faces the struggle of building popularity and awareness — today, the issues lie in the lack of respect for the art, Burda says. Increasing popularity does not necessarily imply consistent quality, and this newly over-saturated market has begun to show the cracks in the industry.

“The popularity of the culture has drawn in people with no respect for or relationship with body art,” Burda says. “For them, it’s all about the money, and their stupidity is hurting the future of the industry.”

Burda hopes these lackluster shops will be replaced by those that preach quality of art, equipment and professionalism. In the end, it’s up to the customers: they can opt for experienced artists who produce quality art that will last or for cheaper prices that often result in quick, poorly-executed work, he says.

Both Tribo and Bobek train new artists, arming them with the knowledge of artistic skills and respect for the art form. Their shops rely on this unwavering philosophy to keep their brand strong.

In the future, Burda hopes to turn Tribo into a community center. The shop focuses on tattoos, piercings, hair-styling services and henna body art, yet Burda envisions a space that incorporates a bike workshop, art gallery with shows and continuous projects, and a café to sit and enjoy the space.

Until then, the artists feel confident in the future of the industry.

“Oh, it’ll keep growing,” Mraz says with a smile.

Mraz at work, Bobek Tattoo studio.
Mraz at work, Bobek Tattoo studio.