Body painting is the art of painting directly on the skin. It is commonly referred as the ‘body art’ which mainly involves decorating body with paint, tattoos, ornaments, piercing and scarification. However unlike tattoo, body painting is temporary and painless.
The paint usually lasts for a day or two before it starts fading out or in some cases a week or two. It is easily washed off with warm water. For long lasting body paint special techniques are used to make the paint water-proof.
Origin of body painting
Body painting has its origin in widespread tradition of primitive tribes of Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and most parts of Africa. Body painting was done under strict conventions of religion and social status.
Body painting was a part of rituals and religious ceremonies and all the significant events of life like birth of a child, puberty, wedding, war, sorrow, spiritual rituals etc. For tribal people, it was a way of visualizing the emotions and situations.
Each colour held its own meaning for instance red was the colour of war, white the colour of sorrow and blue for pain. These colours were derived from clay and natural pigments. Besides expressing their beliefs, it also served the purpose of transformation, connecting to the spirits of animals or Earth, camouflage, protecting from insects, demons and spirits and healing the wounds. Aboriginal people used body paint to distinguish of key individuals (chief, doctors, married women, and social casts).
Progression of body painting
With passage of time, body painting emerged as an art and gained a vital place in fashion and film industry. In 1933, Max Factor presented his new makeup for Hollywood films in World’s Fair held in Chicago. In 1960s, western society accepted body painting and began practicing it locally with intention of abolishing fake social taboos and promoting liberation of mind and body. In 1990s body painting particularly became prominent in United States where it was used to show association and support to political groups.
It is now viewed more as an art than something of only religious and ritual value. It is lawfully taught and practiced in all parts of world. Specialized non-toxic colours with authorized licences and colour index number are used by artists which tend to minimize allergy and irritation. Application of these colours on skin so far has not resulted in any serious damage or long term abnormality. Stage performers, science fiction movie makers, fashion industrialists, military, political groups and sports agencies hire these artists.
It is expected that with time, body painting will emerge as a beautiful way of communicating through colours. A painter, when paints, pours a fraction of his soul into his portrait. Painting on human skin is nothing but depiction of one’s ideas through skin. This art holds within itself, the sentiments a painter or the model feels or once felt. Main purpose of body painting is to visualize the depth of a situation or sentiment that cannot be moulded into words.
‘Painting is the poetry that is seen rather than felt’ (Leonardo Da Vinci)