Amsterdam Tattoo Convention 2007

Published: 23 September, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 151, October, 2007

The Amsterdam Tattoo Convention 2007 takes place over the weekend of the 8th-10th of June and held in the RAI-venue on the outskirts of Amsterdam.  About 8000 people visited the convention, not only from the Netherlands, many also travelled from other countries. Special attention this year, was focused on the traditional artists from Japan and Polynesia.


The Amsterdam Tattoo Convention is the first Dutch show that works officially according to the hallmark of ‘United Tattoo Conventions (UTC)’. The Needle Art Convention in Breda was a test but since the first of June this hallmark has become official. The organizers of the conventions of Amsterdam, Breda, Bunnik and Amersfoort have set up the hallmark. This means that Tattoo artists and convention organizers have to conform to the new legislation brought in since the first of June. The legislation has been made by the Dutch Department of Health and covers hygiene, the use of inks and age-limits. Considering this legislation, Holland walks way out in front compared to other countries of the European Union.  “We have to work according to the new hygienic regulations,” Nico Bos, organizer of the Amsterdam Convention tells me. “Smoking in the hall is not allowed, there has to be a sterilisation room. Not only the Dutch but also the international tattoo artists have to adhere to the hallmark. We started with the hallmark because we want to secure that the good conventions can go on.”


Traditional tattoo art

And Amsterdam is a very good convention, one of the best in Europe! With a special focus on traditional tattooing. After entering the long hall of the RAI, visitors can enjoy the traditional tattoo art of Japan, represented by Horiwaka from Tokyo and Sousyo from Okayama. Bernard Soufflet from France, called Horisei in Japan, shows the audience that also artists from Europe can make beautiful Japanese tattoos too. After passing the Japanese booths, it’s the turn for the Polynesians to show off their traditional skills. From Tahiti, Vatea has come to Amsterdam with the Tahiti Tatau crew. Just like earlier years he also performs the traditional Tahitian music and dance on stage.   

Inia Taylor III from New Zealand who is well known for his art work for ‘Once were warriors’ shows me some beautiful photographs of the Maori tattoo art work he made for a new movie ‘Tangaroa-god of the sea’. He made the movie with one of the most tattooed musicians in New Zealand, called Tiki. ‘The Moko I tattooed on him is the same as was done by my family for Tiki’s family 150 years ago,’ he tells me.

Convention organizer Nico Bos points me to Christophe, Pascal and Lenn, three Young artists from Vietnam who tattoo in one of the corridors of the hall. Nico Bos: “Their studio in Paris is called MiGogoii. I saw them at work during the Paris convention. They tattoo in an oriental style, like Vietnamese dragons.”


Marquesan style

My attention was also attracted by Pierre Kohumoetini of Ketuki Tattoo. He is an artist from the Marquesan Islands who lives in Lyon, France. Convention organizer Nico Bos loves the style of Pierre: “I invited him because he tattoos the original Marquesan style and also renews it,” he says. “It’s also important to give attention to the revival of the Polynesian tattooing that’s going on at the moment in Polynesia itself. People are discovering their own culture and tattoos again. I consciously have chosen to give the traditional artists the best place in the building. Without them Amsterdam wouldn’t be a good convention. ” I saw how Pierre tattoos Rob Brands from Amsterdam in the Marquesan style. “The whole Polynesian culture attracts me, the tattoos and the music,” Rob tells me later on. “I play Tahitian instruments (ukulele) in Mai Ana, a Dutch music–and dance group that plays Tahitian music. We also perform with the group of Vatea. The Marquesan designs on my skin aren’t only meant for decoration. They also have a special significance, like the cross life, the sun on my elbow and the sharks teeth, that give me power.”   


Southern Europe and Brazil

Not only are there just traditional artists working in Amsterdam. I saw a lot of French tattooists like Custom Niko from Paris who is not only tattooing but also paints skateboards. Bernard from Marseille, has been tattooed on his left calf by Chris of Positive Tattoo from the southern French harbour town. Chris tattooed for the first time in Amsterdam. His specialization is Polynesian and Maori tattoos. Bernard went on to win the first price in the category ‘Best Tribal’.   

Southern European artists from Italy and Spain show their tattoo skills in Amsterdam. Like Amor de Madre (Zamora), Atomic Tattoo (Barcelona), Be Hardcore Tattoo (Granada), Maximo Lutz (Madrid), Trafficante d’Arte (Milan), Costa Tattoo (Naples), Enzo Tattoo (Naples) and La Bottega de Tatuaggi (Rome). And many, many more.

The Brazilian artist André Sparta has worked out his ideas about the tattoos of the orixas, the Afro Brazilian gods. At Natasja’s skin he tattoos Osjala. “He is the god of peace,” she tells me after André finishes the tattoo. “He is the oldest orixa, some people compare him with Jesus. I feel that Oshala protects me.”


Suicide Girls

Near the booth of André Sparta I came across the Suicide Girls. Those sexy fashion models seem to attract a lot of attention. Originally this phenomenon comes from the USA, but now they are a global product, with girls coming from the UK, Holland and other countries. They are tattooed and pierced. It started in 2001 as an experimental art project on the internet. Photographs of the sexy pin-ups can be found on the internet ( They combine the underground culture with a vibrant, sexy positive community of women (and men). The company was founded on the belief that creativity, personality and intelligence are not incompatible with sexy, compelling entertainment, and millions of people agree. The sexy fashion culture fits very well into the international tattoo culture, as embodied by the Amsterdam Convention.  The Suicide Girls have been broadcasted on the BBC and by American TV-companies like Fox, CBS and CNN. “We are artistic, rough, intelligent, musically gifted or just a little bit crazy. We are the girlfriend, you always wanted to have,” one of the girls told me whilst selling the erotic booklet of the Suicide Girls.


Borneo in Amsterdam

From the modern underground world of the Suicide Girls I passed into another one, into the old traditional tattoo culture of Borneo. First I meet Roel. He is a tattooist and piercer in the studio of King of Kings, owned by Han in Swalmen, in the southeast of the Netherlands. “I have visited the longhouses on Borneo,” Roel tells me. “I met the traditional tattooists there.  Whilst there I gave drawings of eagles and pin-ups with me because I know they are fond of European tattoos. In exchange for my drawings I received original Borneo flash in the Iban style. In Holland they are tattooed by Han on my shin-bone.”

The real Borneo art is showed by Jeremy of Monkey Tattoo, Kuching, Sarawak, the Malaysian part of Borneo. “I am tattooing in the traditional style of Borneo,” Jeremy tells me. “With tattoo sticks; the needle is tied at the end of the stick and tapped in the skin.” He explains to me the meaning of the ‘bugaterung’. This is an Iban tattoo he wears on his skin and also tattoos on his customers. “This tattoo symbolizes a child when he becomes a man. It’s a traveller’s tattoo to protect the boy becoming a man. The tattoo protects him on his travels through his life. So the spiral symbolizes a smooth life. I am tattooed by various people, by five friends of mine. They are doing all handwork. Borneo tattoos are like a diary. So where you go, you get one tattoo, at the end of the day. It’s a diary, you don’t make it all in one time. The bugaterung doesn’t have to be tattooed on a special place of the body. But the significance is very important. The symbols have different variations.”

When I ask him, if he tattoos the traditional tattoos in the same way on western customers, Jeremy gives the following answer: “What I do is tattooing the traditional, if they want the traditional style and I explain the meaning and see what’s compatible with what he or she wants. Or I do the original: the bugaterung, the original meaning, the original placement. Also if a person wants something that symbolizes his life or strength or someone to remember, I can make a design from the Borneo curves, from the basic curves of the Borneo style into the meaning comprehended into them.  Before I start to tattoo, I talk with the customer all the time. I make sure they know what they are getting. Here in Amsterdam I tattooed many symbols. And a lot of bugaterung designs.” 


Buckles and Japanese designs

The winners of the contest on Sunday received a beautiful buckle. As well as the Best of Day (Saturday and Sunday) and Best of Show the categories there were prizes for Best Realistic, Best Tribal, Best Black & Grey, Best Japanese and Best Traditional. The members of the jury were Johanna of Bluebird Tattoo, one of the best artists from Sweden, Rob Deut, Hans of Yugen Tattoo Veenendaal and Dia, a tattoo artist from Bangkok.   

Winner of Best of Day on Saturday was Jan from Copenhagen with a portrait of Lemmy Motörhead) on his leg, tattooed by Alex (Rites of Passage, Copenhagen). Winner of the Best of Show is Ante from Sweden, tattooed by Johanna, Bluebird Tattoo. During the Best of Show Tumppi from Sweden replaces Johanna.   

Cova and Hotaru Ishii from Japan are won the first and second prizes in the category Best Japanese; Jiro Kawashima won the Best Black & Grey with a tattoo, made by Sousyo. The Japanese style is very popular in Amsterdam. Many visitors are wearing Japanese designs, traditional or based on traditional designs. Joop from Alkmaar wears a whole bodysuit, tattooed by Ron Rijks (Tattoo Centre Alkmaar).  “The Japanese liked to see it that people from Europe are tattooed in the style of their country and that the tattoo is made by a Dutch artist,” Joop tells me. “ They asked me who made the tattoo. That’s a positive sign because it’s their tradition we are looking after.”

All this and more happened at the Amsterdam Show, which was another success for the organisers.



Text: Rik Van Boeckel Photography: Fred Rohde