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Wednesday, April 10, 2013


A few weeks ago, a friend sent me some pictures circulating on the internet showing body painting by nineteen-year-old Japanese artist student Chooo-San. She uses acrylic paint to transform herself into a mutant or cyborg.

As a writer and architect, I'm interested in all creative arts. I was so intrigued that I had to find out more.


Body art is art made on, with, or consisting of the human body with painting, tattoos, piercings, branding, or scalpelling. Body painting is temporary, painted onto the human skin, and lasts for a day or two. Mehndi henna or temp tattoo and glitter tattoos may last a couple of weeks.
Can you see the owl?
Tens of thousands of years ago, our early human ancestors used painting materials for cave paintings. Many scholars believe that before interior cave-decoration became a prehistoric fad, early humans used the same materials for painting their own bodies, primarily as camouflage for hunting and to defend themselves from predators. They certainly had many examples in nature to learn from.

Whenever the practice began, body and face painting developed into decorating in shapes, patterns, and colors for hunting, religious, ritual, and military purposes--sometimes the painting was used to scare the enemy--and for artistic expression. Body painting, along with other rites, represents important changes in one's life, such as puberty, marriage, birth, and so on, and has been a part of most tribal cultures since ancient times. The art of transforming the human being for various purposes with make-up and masks seems inherent in all cultures.

Natural pigments, tree barks, plants, minerals, and clays were used; the colors and types of pigments depended on what was available in the immediate area. Different patterns, shapes, and colors have a different significance depending on the culture. Body painting became a way of expressing one's culture and identity.

According to, body painting was traditionally used in many societies to signify a person's social status and religious beliefs. A temporary decoration, body paint lasted only a few days. In some cultures, both men and women painted their bodies only for important social occasions, while in other cultures, people wore body paint everyday as a uniform to show their social status.
Nearly all tribal cultures practiced some form of body art. The practice still survives in its ancient forms among indigenous peoples in many countries. While it is done primarily for ceremonial purposes (and tourism), it also serves to preserve elements of the culture and identity in an expanding world. Art makes us different.

Julius Caesar wrote that the Britanni warriors or Picts (which means painted ones in Latin) colored their bodies blue when going into battle.
History teaches us that the American Indians painted their faces, particularly when preparing for war, and movies like Braveheart show other cultures that painted their faces and bodies.

Most of us are familiar with face painting in its contemporary forms. We see the images in ads, on TV and many other places, particularly related to the entertainment business, including:
     Halloween costumes
     Circus clowns
     Sports Fans 
     Cosmetic Ads

And, ladies, skin care and cosmetics represent a 160 billion-dollar-per-year industry. That's some serious face painting, wouldn't you say? The Economist Magazine states "an industry driven by sexual instinct will always thrive."

Even today in India and Morocco, brides traditionally have their hands and feet painted in henna, and Indian women. Hindu women and men wear their marking and symbols on their foreheads. The small red dot, worm by women, is called bindi and represents the social status of a married woman.

Body painting doesn't always involve painting large pieces of a nude body; the art form also includes smaller pieces on otherwise clothed bodies. The model may be a "stand alone" canvas for the artist, or may be part of a more complex juxtaposition of model (or models) and background. Perhaps that is why body painting is considered, by some, as one of the performing arts.
Body painting as a form of artistic expression experienced a resurgence in the 1960's and 1970's, in part due to the relaxation of the social mores regarding nudity and the freedom movements of those generations.  Some thirty years earlier, in 1933 at the World's Fair in Chicago, Max Factor Sr. and his model, Sally Rand, were arrested when he painted her body with new cosmetics developed for the movies.  By the 1960's artists needed attention and were looking for something shocking and provoking to send their message.

Since the 1980's, body painting has become widely accepted in the US.  There are publications dedicated to it, festivals, and competitions around the world.  The first art gallery dedicated to body painting as a fine art opened in 2006 in New Orleans.
But still today, there is an ongoing debate whether or not body paints is a form of Fine Art.  You'll have to make up your own mind.



WORK BY ARTIST YOMICO MORENO (I believe these are tattoos, not body painting)



WORK BY UNNAMED ARTISTS (unnamed in the articles)




Melissa Keir said...

Interesting! In some of the photos I could hardly tell where the canvas began and ended. The people were painted so beautifully. I had a henna tat done on my son. It lasted the month and he loved it! Thanks for sharing!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks for all the great information. I enjoyed learning about body art. The pictures are amazing.

Tina Donahue said...

There's a store in the mall where I live that does body painting. It's fascinating to watch them. Great post. :)

Paris said...

Very interesting post! I love the way some of the artists blend their subjects. You are, once again, a wealth of information. Thanks you:)

Sandy said...

Ann, a very interesting post. My opinion is body painting is a form of classic art. I'm surprised there would be a question about calling it an art form. Look at all the different sculptures done in wood, bushes, metal, stone, etc.

Anonymous said...

How beautiful! I've seen some body art but nothing like what you have here. Thank you, Ann!

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Thank you all for commenting. I was blown away by the creativeness of the artists. Would that I could do that with words.
I thinking a body painting festival might make a good set up for an erotic romance. Ann

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Thank you all for commenting. I was blown away by the creativeness of the artists. Would that I could do that with words.
I thinking a body painting festival might make a good set up for an erotic romance. Ann

Calisa Rhose said...

So interesting. One of my favorite body arts is Mackenzie Crowne's breast cancer survival guide book cover. I was, and still am, impressed with that one. Thanks for sharing your research on this unique art form.

Maria Connor said...

What an incredibly well-researched blog post. Thanks for the inspiration!

Nina Pierce said...

What beautiful body art! I'm always so amazed what creative people can do!

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