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Tattooist with moko banned from bar

Published: 6:24PM Monday September 21, 2009 Source: ONE News

One of the country's leading tattooists is laying an official complaint after being turned away from a bar for having a traditional Maori moko.

Christchurch's Bourbon Bar bans gang markings, however, tattoo artist Mark Kopua says his tattoos are cultural.

Kopua says he and three women turned up at Bourbon Bar early on Sunday morning, where he was stopped outside.

He says he made it clear to the security guard that his tattoo was cultural and that he had no gang affiliations.

Kopua says the guard chose not to listen and still banned him from entering the bar.

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The Bourbon Bar argues that several gang members had already been turned away that night.

Kopua says he understands the arguments made by the bar.

"They do have a right to stop gang members, but also have a responsibility to stop the right people, not innocent folk who want to come and enjoy themselves."

The bar disagrees with Kopua that he informed the security guard that his tattoo was cultural.

"The gentleman didn't tell our security guard that they're cultural. Cultural tattoos are not a problem inside the venue," Bourbon Bar manager Andrew Geldard says.

But Geldard understands it was a mistake and blames a lack of communication.

It is not the first time this issue has arisen.

Back in 2001, a Gisborne woman with a facial moko was turned away from a pub.

The Human Rights Commission found that bar was in the wrong, finding that a person of Maori descent could not be turned away because of facial moko. 

Pride in tattoo

Kopua says he is proud of his tattoo.

"It's my heritage, where I'm from, who my ancestors were, it's everything about me," he says.

But he is not sure if racism played a role in him being banned from the bar.

"I don't know if it necessarily was racism. I think the doorman was just carrying out his duties ... I think it's ignorance," says Kopua.

Kopua says he laid the complaint over the incident so that people understand the issue and get educated, understanding the difference between cultural tattoos and tattoos with gang affiliations.

He says he would also like an apology from Bourbon Bar, which the bar manager has promptly given.

"We've put steps in place to rectify that& like I say, I do apologise to him," Geldard says. "And like I said, we've learnt from that and we move on."

The bar says it could have handled the situation better and says from now on patrons will be asked if tattoos are cultural. 

It is not known if compensation will be sought by Kopua, but the last pub which got it wrong ended up paying $3,000 in compensation.

In the next few days the Human Rights Commission will look at the complaint laid by Kopua, and if it decided that he had been discriminated against the Commission will seek to bring the two parties together, hold mediation talks and it should hopefully be sorted in about two to three months.

Do you think a tattoo, even if cultural, should be a reason for barring a person entry into a bar? Comment below...

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  • Kate101 said on 2009-09-22 @ 15:32 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I think this guy is great! The way he has handled the whole situation is very sobering. He didn't kick up a fuss and get his panties in a knot. Great attitude dude! Tu Meke!

  • MzBullet said on 2009-09-22 @ 13:41 NZDT: Report abusive post

    First of all this man isn't using the culture card.. The people were being ignorant they refused him into a bar in New Zealand for having Ta Moko. Because they saw him as Gang Affiliated. When he did explain to them they still refused him into the bar.. And he is far from "stupid" as you say. He is taking it as a "learning curb" & educating the ignorant people at fault! @ amigo.

  • Acushla said on 2009-09-22 @ 10:02 NZDT: Report abusive post

    This is disgusting... Firstly, that someone with ta moko is denied entry into an establishment based on assumption that they were gang affiliated 'tatoos' and now saying that the doorman 'didn't know that' is ridiculous. Secondly, do they even know who they're dealing with? Mark Kopua is one of the best ta moko artists in this country. I'm so glad he is taking this to the Commission. Everyone in Aotearoa needs to realise the significance of tribal/cultural moko, even sad old chch

  • geofreyraa said on 2009-09-21 @ 22:24 NZDT: Report abusive post

    It wouldn't surprise me if it's the bouncer's fault, many of them are fools with bad attitudes. I had a nasty encounter with one a few years ago at Spy bar in Christchurch (you know, where all the Derek Zoolander's go), it was over nothing at all.

  • the_dr0271 said on 2009-09-21 @ 21:52 NZDT: Report abusive post

    boy...did they choose the wrong Maori to do this to...Mark was involved in a landmark case that set a precedent for a similar case 8 years ago when Mark was called in as an expert witness...he knows the law and there is no doubt in my mind that the Human Rights Commission will rule in his favour...this will cost this bar plenty...