Most people have experienced body painting at one time or another. Maybe it was at Halloween or at the town fair as a child when you had your face painted, or a football match where you drew coloured letters across your chest. Maybe (like for many western adult females), you do it every day when you apply your lipstick, eye shadow, or nail polish. But when and where did body painting begin, and at what point does the act of covering the body with colour, become art?
Body painting is considered by some to be the most ancient form of art. The discovery of coloured pigments about 75 thousand years ago (many believe even further back) indicates that long before people covered their bodies with clothing, they decorated themselves with body paint.
Unlike tattooing, body painting is temporary, lasting a few hours to a few weeks. Body painting with ochre (derived from clay), natural pigments found in minerals such as pyrolusite, chalk, and lime, and plants such as kohl, blue woad, and uruku, existed in most tribal cultures with no known single place of origin. Body paint was often worn during ceremonies such as weddings, burials, and initiations. As well, body painting may have been used as identification with a certain people, distinction from others, or for purely aesthetic reasons. Cosmetics, were first used in Egypt to decorate the faces of males and females, the living and the dead.
The tradition of body painting declined with the advent of clothing but many indigenous people in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and others, still maintain the practice. Also, the semi-permanent form of body painting called Mehndi, which uses dyes made of henna is still practiced in India and the Middle East, particularly on brides. Mehndi has also been popular in Western cultures since the 1990’s.
In the 1950’s and 60’s body painting became a minor art movement with the help of artists like Yves Klein, who covered his models in paint and rolled them on a canvas, using them as human paint brushes.
In the 1960’s, body painting started making a comeback with the hippie movement and more liberal ideas surrounding the human body. Since that time, body painting began appearing in popular culture and was used for commercial purposes in magazine and television ads, as well as in the film industry.
Well known artists in the body painting genre include German model and actress Veruschka von Lehndorff (1960’s), New Zealand born Joanne Gair, who painted the infamous Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover (1992), South Korean artist Kim Joon, and hand painter Guido Daniele.
Today, body painting as an art form is popular around the globe. Body painting festivals happen every year in many cities bringing professional and amateur painters together. The World Body Painting Festival in Seeboden, Austria is the biggest body painting art event with thousands of people coming out to admire the participants artwork.
For more information about body painting, visit the source links below. To view more of the stunning images by Hans Silvester from the Omo Tribes of Ethiopia, visit XarJ.net.
Sources: Skin by Nina G. Jablonski, xraj.net, Wikipedia