From umbrellas and Chinese calligraphy, to gas masks and helmets; Hong Kong protesters get inked

From umbrellas and Chinese calligraphy to gas masks and helmets, people are getting their bodies inked as a sign of solidarity with a protest movement challenging the Hong Kong government and its Beijing backers.

Since June when the largest protests to hit Hong Kong in decades erupted, tattoo studios have received a surge in requests for protest-related artworks.

Tattoos: A reminder of defiance and freedom

As a tattooist's black ink fills the petals of Hong Kong's Bauhinia flower on her upper thigh, 'C' says the indelible act of rebellion will forever serve as a reminder of the city's summer of defiance.

"No matter how many years pass, I'll remember this year; I decided to stand up to fight for my freedom and to fight for what I really care about," said the finance worker who asked to be identified only by an initial.


Bauhinia Flower: Representation of a separate identity

The Bauhinia flower is the emblem of Hong Kong and normally coloured red, but is represented in black in C's tattoo as a mark of the troubles clouding the city. 

The five stars on the flower's petals, which usually represent China and its ruling Communist Party, are also missing -- a move commonly made by Hong Kongers who want to separate their identity from the mainland.


Freedom of speech and thought

"Tattooing is an action to show that you have control over your own body," said Iris Lam, a 28-year-old tattooist recognized for her calligraphy-like style. 

"It helps people think about freedom of speech and even freedom of thought."


Violence coming in the way of tattoos

One of Lam's clients, a 40-year-old protester, had requested a full sleeve tattoo depicting scenes of Hong Kong's demonstrations but decided to hold off until the protests are over.

"He doesn't want to get hit by tear gas with a big wound on his body," she explained.

"It would be painful and trouble to take care of, so he wants to do his tattoo after the protests."

Many protests have seen violent clashes, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets, and hardcore demonstrators throwing bricks and molotov cocktails.


Tattoos for free

The magnitude of the ongoing protests is what has brought people together, said Vincent Yau, another Hong Kong tattoo artist.

"A lot of people want to commemorate this," Yau said, and tattoos are a way to "say to yourself that you were part of a movement this big."

Yau said his studio had been doing most of the tattoos for free.

"Art is power, to spread an idea or to touch people or to inspire people," she said.


Protests have bought people together

The crisis began with protests against plans to allow extraditions of suspects to mainland China, then morphed into a broad pro-democracy campaign that has seen hundreds of thousands of people march regularly through the streets.

The magnitude of the ongoing protests is what has brought people together, said Vincent Yau, another Hong Kong tattoo artist.