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Rediscovering The Ancient Art Of Body Painting

Rediscovering The Ancient Art Of Body Painting

Decorating one’s body is an ancient art which has been a part of every culture since the beginning of civilisation. From being a mark that identified people of one group to evolving into an artistic representation of one’s individuality, the art of decorating one’s body has been explored and defined with needles and paint brushes alike. In this two part series we discuss some of the popular means of this art.

Since the birth of civilisation, man has been fascinated by the power and glory of Nature. Over time, with his numerous experiments, he began to discover the beauty of colours derived from stones, mud, flowers, fruits and other natural sources, which gave him the freedom to dabble in monochrome and multi-coloured inks to paint on cave walls, floors, trees and most of all, himself. The human body has thus been a live canvas for artistic people since ancient times, making body art an even older practice than was previously thought. The word tattoo is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ meaning mark.

The art of body painting is present in every culture, right from Persian, Celtic, Greek and Roman to Indian, African, Russian and Australian. Body painting has been used by human beings to not only decorate and beautify themselves but also for healing purposes. In 1991, researchers discovered a five thousand year old frozen body called Ötzi the Ice Man on the mountains lying in between Italy and Austria. Ötzi had 57 tattoos which were found in those areas where he experienced joint pain, making a point that permanent tattoos were used even then as painkillers.

Pain relief was not the only function of tattoos. People used it to ink images of gods and goddesses onto their body to display their love and devotion to their religion. They also tattooed themselves to express their life experiences, social status, hopes, desires and even dreams and visions, as a way to remember them permanently.

Body paint and tattoos are used even during wars to camouflage soldiers and during religious ceremonies, weddings, deaths and also as an amulet. The Horis, i.e. the Japanese tattoo artists, were the pioneers of body painting. With their mind blowing artistic perspective and clever use of colours, they elevated the status of tattooing to a different level altogether and added a greater touch of beauty and elegance to it. Tattoos gained more popularity as a form of expression after they ruled the rock music scene in the mid 90s and were spotted on every rock star and subsequently their starstruck fans.


Tomorrow in the second part of this feature, we take you through the growth of body painting.

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