Recently I had the amazing opportunity to experience Ghana, spending just under 2 weeks in Accra and further down the coast just outside of Takoradi.
We worked with an amazing Band Ashewa who treated us to several wonderful performances as well as a series of workshops focussing on Dance, percusssion and visual arts. A highlight for me and I think many who visit Accra is the amazing art market selling all the garments, masks, baskets amazing African art. A fantastic record stall – the only regret is not having enough money at the time to splurge on everything. bought great batiked fabric I’m going to make something with at some point.
An Arts council funded project – This amazing project was a collaboration with the amazing artist Rowan Taylor – in which she designed 4 Stilt walking costumes inspired by 4 birds of paradise. I was involved as an artist in the making of the costumes – I designed and made the headdresses and helped on the completion of the costumes. During this project we had masterclasses in performance and improve and spent time developing a show which we debuted at Glastonbury 2022. Which was an amazing experience.
The heads are moulded in plaster-zote and expanding foam and painted in acrylics.
This is a post I’ve been meaning to put together for a while, Back in October we had a virtual talk and workshop from world renowned body painter Bella Vollen. Bella has a wealth of experience in commercial and fine art body painting, travelling all over the world for her work and competing in major world body painting competitions.
The Talk was really split into 2 halves, the first half Bella took us around the world, explaining many examples of traditional body painting, some I had a small amount of knowledge and others were completely new to me. Throughout the 2 hours spent talking about the history of body painting, Bella literally went through each continent and spoke of the traditions she knew about from her extensive research over the years. To talk you through all the information relayed by Bella would take a lot of time and probably would be a splurge of unorganised information. Instead I’m going to fumble my way through the notes I made and things that stayed with me from the talk.
Above is one of the first recorded examples of body painting found in a cave in Algeria, the rock painting was discovered in the 1930’s and is thought to date from around 6000-4000 BCE. Humans have been adorning and painting their bodies for centuries, Bella discussed with us some of the reasons in which tribal cultures have and still do paint their bodies. She shared this quote – ‘A man without tattoos is invisible to the gods’, a lot of tribal cultures past and present paint, tattoo and scar their bodies for spiritual reasons. Some cultures adorn themselves as tribute to the specific God they are honouring at that time, the colours and design directly related to a specific spiritual icon.
As well as talking us through lots of different ancient traditions Bella talked about her professional experience operating as an artist and body painter and the worlds of commercial and fine art body painting. One thing that Bella spoke of when describing the design process, you make a conscious decision when designing and applying body paint to the body to either follow the natural shapes of the body, which can accentuate the figure or go against them to create a different form or silhouette. That led Bella into talking about camouflage body painting, and showed some examples of commercial body painting by herself and others – it’s become popular for companies to use camouflage.
Bella talked about a big influence on body painting as a form of fine art 1960’s/70’s artist Veruskha – who really propelled body painting as a form of art – and really was the first to experiment with camouflage body painting which ever since has been used in fashion photography and commercial advertising.
Bella also went through techniques and the paints and brushes she uses and how organised she has to be before a shoot/paint day – including what to communicate with models – e.g how its important to be on top form and have many fizzy drinks and high protein snacks as it’s a long process an the model needs physical and mental strength to still have energy at the end when the artwork is ready and it’s time to shoot. Then we all had a go at painting and she went through a few quick and easy techniques she uses.
here’s some images of the workshop in progress and our attempts at a few of Bella’s techniques on our own arms –
Pomak Brides is a tradition unique to some remote villages in Bulgaria, the tradition is practiced in a village called Draginova. Pomak is the name given to Slavic Muslims, the Muslim Women of the village on their wedding day adorn themselves with paint and sequins, It seems like all of the women of the village come together to help get the bride ready, helping to adorn and dress her.
I’ve found an amazing Polish photographer who has created a series of photographs called ‘Pagan poetry’ which are a celebration of slavic culture and are definitely influenced by this bridal tradition. They are incredibily beautiful pictured below –
I did a couple of versions, trying to merge the different examples I found and I did have a go at recreating Nagraba’s photographs, but i didn’t think the painting worked out very well. I found it hard to recreate the darkness and the contrast between the darkness and the metallic, opalescent light in the photographs, It ended up looking flat and like a strange illustration of a priest so I gave up and tried concentrated more on the imagery of the traditional Pomak brides.
Below is a small image of my failed first attempt, recreating the bead work in painting was really hard with the acrylic gouache i’m use to using, think it would work but better in oils as you can add layers and more depth.
..is home to a large variety of traditional tribal communities including the Suri (surma), Morsi and Karo who all still partake in ceremonial body painting. Pictured above are members of the Suri(Surma) Tribe. Designs are specific to the individual and ceremony, they can be used to ward off bad health, attract the opposite sex or sometimes denote a right of passage in their lives. For example maturing and becoming an adult, or becoming a parent.
Maybe a potential reason for why body painting is so prevalent along this stretch of Valley, could be due to the offerings of the Omo river, natural products have been used to paint bodies for centuries. The Tribes surrounding the Omo River use Ochre which actually comes directly from the river. Like most tribal communities who have traditions of body painting they use the local resources which they have in abundance like the ochre from the river bed, white chalk, yellow mineral rock and pulverised iron ore.
The Mursi tribe in Ethiopia are known for the female tribe members who wear Lip plates. Members of the tribe have their lips cut at age 15/16 and as they get older the lip plate is enlarged and therefor their lip stretches. It is thought that the lip plates originated to prevent women from capture by slave traders. Negative connotations have since been attached to the lip plates, regarding mens expectations that women should be quiet, and like scarification it is now widely discouraged in most parts of Africa, however the tribal women who still practice this believe it to be an integral part of their culture and an honour to adorn themselves in this way.
Karo Tribe – Traditional hair styles of the Males
‘Like the Hamer, some Kara men wear elaborate hairstyles that they build by weaving their hair in tight braids around the skull and forming a sort of chignon, then this is covered with chalk and butter; the final result looks more like a sculpture than a hairstyle’
This particular hairstyle is finished with some large ostrich feathers that symbolize courage.
It takes three days to make this elaborate hairstyle and the hairstyle is redone every 3 or 4 months and is worn for a maximum of one year.
It seems that this particular hairstyle is a sort of recognition that is attributed to the brave warriors.
‘This kind of cap is usually colored in white, red and black, these three colors have a mystical and legendary meaning; while if a man wears a gray and red colored hood and an ostrich feather, it means he has killed an enemy or a dangerous animal.’
Karo Body painting
The peculiarity of this ethnic group is that, on the occasion of one of their many ceremonies, or on the occasion of an important visit, both men and women paint their faces and bodies, trying to reproduce a design that recalls the animals of the savannah, such as the spotted leopard or the guinea-fowl plumage.
Like the traditions of the Suri(surma) and the Mursi tribe the Karo people use there natural surrounding as a resource for painting materials and find a wealth of colour from different plants and earth derived products.
Achieving different colours ; white is obtained from gypsum, anthracite from coal dust, yellow from a mineral rock and red from iron dust.
A fascinating contributor to the rich diversity of body art in this region is the absence of mirrors and reflections as the Omo River water is cloudy. This definitely contributes to the artistic freedom and natural beauty of the artwok, In the painted bodies you can really feel the ritual and spiritual significance and it’s clear tribes living in this valley have been using body art as a form of expression and social bonding experience for thousands of years. Never having or needing the ability to see yourself, as you see yourself reflected in others with their reaction to the patterns and designs on your face – the body art really becoming an extension of who they are.
‘Make no mistake, these muri or surma body paintings have nothing clownish about them. This is not a travesty, as in the carnival tradition, playing on a reversal of appearances and roles, but rather the expression of a skill, an essential art form and necessary. The fact, moreover, of erasing a painting in the water of the river whose result does not conform to the initial desire and of starting again, confirms it: the concept of success or failure exists, and gives all its value to this tradition inherited from the parents. It is an element of culture and as such, the act of painting and decorating is important, almost religious, despite its ephemeral and apparently anecdotal character.’
Above is a panting I created of a Hans Silvester photograph of two Surma men painting each other before a ceremony. I Thought this photograph captured a beautiful moment, the time and care taken to adorn each other and the creative expression captured, I found it inspirational and wanted to pay tribute to that specific moment but also the body painting of the Omo valley in general and it’s organic natural beautiful aesthetic.
Theyyam is an indian tradition – a ritual performance which takes place in front of the village shrines in Kerala Southern India. The word Theyyam translates as ‘GOD’ – ‘The dance of the Gods’. The performance combines many art forms dance, sculpture, body art, music and usually fire is prevelent in the perfomance piece and the dance is an offering to the hindu Goddess Kali – she is the destroyer and is synonymous with those powerful elements. There a lots of variations of Theyyam and different characters relate to different Gods, researching was quite overwhelming, trying to distinguish the different characters and find out there meaning as visually they can look quite similar.
The hindu religion is one which artistic representation of ‘gods and goddess’ have existed for thousands of years and the different ceremonies, rituals and performances offered to the gods are specific to each individual region. The Tradition of Theyyam is specific to Kerala and like any tradition has developed over time.
‘Every deity’s physical appearance conforms to an image envisaged centuries ago in the dream or vision of a respected guru’.
The performers of Theyyam belong to the lower caste community in ancient caste structure formed by Namboothiri brahmins in Kerala, and have an important position in Theyyam. The people of these districts consider Theyyam itself as a channel to a God and they thus seek blessings from Theyyam.
There are apparently over 400 different types of Theyyam, the most famous being Vishnumoorthi – It tells the story of a great devote of Lord vishnu Palanthai Kannan – The jist of the story is the Palanthai Kannan is Killed by a local land and property owner – this enranged Lord Vishnu and he destroyed the Lands of the killer. The Killer Kuruvat Kurup, quickly built a shrine for Lord Vishnu which eventually gave Kurup the name Vishnumoorthi. The performance tells this story.
Music is also a big part of Theyyam, traditional indian instruments such as the Chenda, Elathalam, Kurumkuzal, and Veekkuchenda are used within the performances. It is similar to the performance traditition of Kathakali but visually quite different – I think the intricacy of the body painting for these specific characters is amazing. Below is my tribute to the Theyyam tradition.
On my (hypothetical, from the comfort of my home, covid free) journey around the world researching traditional body painting, I wanted to find a culture who practiced body painting a little closer to home. I realised my knowledge of Ancient Britain isn’t great. DISCLAIMER; I’m definitely not a historian, and most of my knowledge prior to the small amount of research I’ve done came from inaccurate historical movies such as Braveheart and King Arthur with Clive Owen and Keira Knightly, like many I had distant memories of celts/pagans covered in blue body paint, but that was basically my only reference point, until discovering some Images of Woads/Picts/Celts adorned in body art. We all know that tattoo art has an ancient history but when we think of tribal body art, we think of Tribes in South America or Asia, we don’t tend to think of Ancient Britons adorning themselves with traditional tattooing techniques.
Who are the Woads and the Picts and did they paint themselves?? It is highly contested whether they actually adorned themselves with Blue paint, the colour Blue would have been achievable as a native plant the Woad can be used to produce blue dye, hence why celts have been referred to as the Woads. Also another name given to northern celt tribes was The Picts, Romans referred to Northern Britania’s Celtic peoples as the ‘The picts’ due to there tattoo’d bodies. It’s Possible the Woad plant was used to paint the body before battles – but most likely it seems Tattooing had become a custom among the tribes – adorning themselves with symbols and local plants and colours which would be specific to individual tribes. I’ve found some beautiful/ pretty gruesome old illustrations of what Pictish Warriors may or may not have looked liked. They may not be historically accurate but they are quite wonderful drawings.
It’s thought that the Picts painted/tattoo’d themselves to look like fearsome warriors and to intimidate rival tribes, a book by Celtic historian Elizabeth Sutherland suggests ‘The primary reason for tattooing was probably to distinguish one tribal group from another in battle, The skin was pricked by bone or iron pins and rub bed with soot or herbal dyes to give it colour. Perhaps it was done with needles drawing threads under the skin to raise the flesh. It must have been an extremely painful undertaking and may possible have been combined with initiation rites’ It sounds like forms of tribal tattooing and scarification, which still takes place in communities in Africa and Asia today. It’s amazing really that this tribal way of life and tattooing the body of indigenous brits isn’t more widely known or celebrated.
Below is a painting Inspired by the Illustrations of The Picts – An ancient warrior woman adorned with symbols and native plants.
Podai paintings of the Loma Tribe of Guinea Africa. Podai is the name given to this form of body art and the rituals where it is practiced. Podai is a tree which exists in parts of West Africa and the Women produce an ink like paint from the tree and use this to adorn younger members of the community for initiation ceremonies.
‘Podai is masterfully composed images with a completely independent visual language based on the proportions of the human body’ – Explains Karl Heinz-krieg in his documentation of the Podai paintings ritual.
Oh how I’ve gone on a journey Researching the Art of The Loma, A community based in Guinea. Originally I discovered their body painting work in Karl Groning’s ‘Decorated skin’ a brilliant anthology of body painting from cultures all around the world. What drew me to the image of a adorned, young Loma girl was the detail of the painting on her body and the fact that the paintings are part of an initiation ceremony for young girls of the Loma community. During this rite of passage ceremony the girls live in Bush camps outside of the traditional settlements and they are painted by experienced artists, women of the community who have practiced Podai paintings for many years. A key feature of the Body painting is the ‘lip closing line’ a line painted across the face above the lips – signifying the girls must remain silent for the duration of the ceremony ’till the dancing is over’. After reading about this practice I really wanted to find more information, images, documents of the girls initiation and the painting process. I spent nearly a whole day scouring the internet trying to find more images of painting in action but I couldn’t find anything – I’d read in Groning’s book that artists of this community like other communities in Africa painted houses with the Podai paintings and searched and searched trying to find examples. Eventually changing my search criteria and looking for Loma Liberia, as some Loma communities exist in neighbouring countries I found an Amazing resource.
http://www.kunst-aus-westafrika.com – A German Shop and Gallery space selling African art but they have an amazing website documenting artistic traditions of various African communities in central and west Africa. Art Dealer, collector and Writer KARL-HEINZ KRIEG went on many research trips to Guinea and surrounding areas photographing and collecting examples of African art. https://www.kunst-aus-westafrika.com/karlheinz-krieg – here details his many trips. There’s a beautiful Gallery of Podai paintings designs from different artists which Heinz-Krieg met in person and he not only witnessed the art in person and photographed a Loma girl being painting (probably the only image that exists of the tradition – or t least the only one I can find on the internet), he spent a lot of time with the individual artists and paid them to paint designs on paper and board and those designs now exist in digital from as a gallery on his website – There was an exhibition of art-work and artefacts back in 2016 – I presume it would’ve encompassed The podai paintings – it’s amazing to be able to access such a vast gallery of images of designs collect by Heinz-Krieg, he also collected information about the women who were practicing Podai painting and their is individual bio’s of the artists on his website – which are an incredible insight into the tradition of Podai painting and the women of the Loma.
It’s interesting to hear the range of tradition and generational differences in the women pictured above. I found the work of one of the above artists Kolouma Sovogi very beautiful, but it seems that in the community her work is not revered as she seems like quite a character who had a bootleg alcohol business which was continually finding her in trouble with the authorities. Below are some examples of her work.
As I’ve stated it has been pretty difficult to find many Images of this body painting tradition actually in action and I think thats because there hasn’t been much documentation on this specific custom and there seems to be an element of secrecy and protection surrounding the rites of passage, initiation process these young girls go through, they live in make-shift bush camps for up to 4 years learning the craft of Podai painting – painting over and over again. The bush-camps were kept a secret as the president of Guinea Sékou Touré (1958-84) was a devout Muslim from the Mandinka ethnic group and forbid most other cultural traditions and Podai painting was forbidden during this time but the tradition stayed alive – Women secretly teaching their children in these hidden bush camps. I only hope that the Tradition prevails now and that the spate of globalisation which floods the planet doesn’t bring an end to beautiful cultural traditions such as this one.
This being said I’m so happy I found this resource I think it’s unusual to have such an extensive account of Women only initiation activities and also to have a Gallery of work by Women African artists and contacting biographies which give a clear understanding of these individuals and the roles they played within their societies.
‘1987 was my first meeting with Mama Gaou. On the drive to Kindia, where I wanted to work on my batik project, we chose Nyanguézazou as a place to sleep. The next morning I discovered wonderful house paintings all over the village, which, I was told, were mostly painted by Mama Gaou for the girls’ initiation festival in 1986. She made a few drawings on paper for me. She also painted a little girl. This is how the photo documentation about Savo Onivogi was created. When we arrived in Nyanguézazou unannounced in 1989, she took us to the village of Segbémé. During the four-day initiation festival there, we got to know many other Podai painters, so that after the holidays we chose Segbémé as the new center for our work. The encounter with Mama Gaou set the course for us: In her person, almost all the factors that are needed for the success of a project in Africa met: As the widow of a former lieutenant, she was a woman of particularly high esteem and the oldest and best (and at that time still active) Podai painter, which was fully in the old tradition. Therefore she was very respected in the women’s world and had a great influence on women’s issues. She was a wonderful personality, was open, honest and easy to deal with. For me it was a stroke of luck: the key to the gate of the podal painting.’ – This is Lifted from the Biography of Mama Gaou on the Karl Heinz Krieg Site.
Also from this amazing resource is some recordings of Music of the Loma people, very beautiful and worth a listen, I have Linked below. I think it’s amazing Karl Heinz Krieg was able to visit the Loma people on multiple occasions and develop a relationship which enabled him to preserve there art form in this way, Other than the information found on his website which advertised the exhibition held at a gallery in Germany I couldn’t find any other information about this art form the initiation ceremonies or the Loma people themselves.
‘I CAN ONLY BE AMUSED INSTEAD OF TERRIFIED SEEING THAT HUMANITY WAS ONCE MORE TRICKED – THIS TIME BY THE SPARKLES OF GLOBALISATION – AND FORGOT AGAIN THE FUNDAMENTAL THINGS THAT DEFINE IT, AND WHICH ARE THE ONLY ONES ABLE TO OFFER US THE CHANCE TO AVOID ENDING UP IN A SAD INDIVIDUALISTIC ERA’.
This is the artist statement – for me this is why I wanted to share Swarte’s work – I thought the idea is beautifully communicated and resonated deeply –
SWARTE “One square meter of roots” – artist statementI can only be amused instead of terrified seeing that humanity was once more tricked – this time by the sparkles of globalisation – and forgot again the fundamental things that define it, and which are the only ones able to offer us the chance to avoid ending up in a sad individualistic era. I would rather define the current global crisis as being basically a spiritual one as it reflects the level of conscious evolution of the human species. It is, therefore, hard to imagine that it could be resolved without a radical inner transformation of humanity on a large scale and its rise to a higher level of emotional maturity and spiritual awareness.Watching how the entire world struggles now to build the future, the first thing that came in my mind was a quote from Donald Sutherland saying that it would have been great if we would have gotten a chance to live our lives backwards. That is exactly what the art collection “One square meter of roots” is trying to sustain: a wise way of living. The task of “feeding” humanity with an entirely different set of values and goals might appear too unrealistic and utopian for most of us. Still, we are facing the necessity to instill humanity with profound ethical values, sensitivity to the needs of others, acceptance of simplicity, and a sharp awareness of ecological imperatives. Even if such a task appears too fantastic even for a science-fiction movie we all have to admit that a radical mutation of ourselves is already underway. I have no idea if the formula provided by the art collection “One square meter of roots” is the ultimate answer to the question we all have in mind today, but it is definitely a good start, at least for some of us to have a look at what made more than 70 tribes all over the world be able to survive and conserve themselves during time. The 18 works within this collection represent a personal vision about those basics which might help us avoid walking about our lives in a dark tunnel filled with selfish thoughts and handicapped feelings. The message of each artwork of this collection is explained in details on www.sw-arte.com. When creating it, the composition of the paintings was reduced to the same repetitive framing, as the main thought was to express each part of the entire idea with the help of symbols from lives and rituals of the surviving tribes, as they were chosen and considered as letting the art work breath its own message in the most clear way. It was painting, it was drawing, it was body art and in the end it became photography; so many levels and so many ways, as a kind of representation of all historical human lessons that made us what we are today and what we can become in the future. All characters in the art works were “drained” of their own individuality for a better comprehension and fluidity of the narration. One square meter of roots is supposed to be a balance between symbols and emotions. Therefore some works are full of representations while others include free painting and drawing, meant to offer place to personal reflection while creating strong emotions at the same time.The entire assemble of each photographed painting is supposed to generate such an impact, while having an amazing force meant to define it as a clear statement of the message it contains.Last but not least… we did it together. One of us defined the project, searching for the “roots” while looking up every little detail of the surviving tribes around the world and expressed her vision in a body art form which was consolidated by the other one, who completed the story and caught it in a second of photography. That was probably the most emotional and intangible part of the project, as it came out so round on base of mutual respect and empathy.
The Images are beautiful and apparently represent – 70 existing tribal communities and there customs. All though I couldn’t find any information detailing which ones. They are beautiful images clearly inspired from the art and traditions of tribes – And from all the body painting projects I’ve found the artist statement detailing the idea behind this project is beautiful and really encompasses the themes of human existence and our feeling of disconnect and our ecological imprint on the planet. I believe a lot of the problems that exist in modern society stem from a feeling of disconnect and a longing for a deeper sense of purpose, and it seems in the west there has been a huge resurgence in sustainability and foraging and living a life much more connected with the land. I think we are beginning to realise that capitalism and consumerism has and is having a negative impact not only on the Earth but on humans at a very personal level. Tribal communities have survived and flourished with the most simple and beautiful way of life and there’s so much we can learn from this I think humans have the capability to thrive without causing a detrimental effect on the planet and the other creatures and organisms which inhabit it – we can live in harmony.. can’t we!?
When starting the research for Cabasa’s body painting project it wasn’t long till I came across the images of Art Wolfe’s Human Canvas project. The images are so beautiful and striking and unlike the work of other body paint artists they seem much more intertwined with the world of tribal art and the ancient traditions of body painting and modification in which i’ve been researching. It is clear in these images that Art Wolfe has spent time with the tribes in the Omo valley – The Mursi and surma tribes – it is a very clear reference of they’re body painting tradition, they use natural resources from the river and earth around them, ochre, mineral rocks, chalk and clay as paint and sticks, seed pods and other natural objects as brushes. Using these materials they create beautiful repeat patterns – of lines and shapes not dissimilar to the designs displayed in this project.
I think this project is a collaboration between cultures – but because art wolfe had travelled to these tribal communities in Ethiopia and Papua New guinea before he already had a relationship with these remote tribes, I think this is why this project works and has a beautiful integrity. Obviously the images are striking and the way the photographer has composed them is stunning – layering bodies next to each other – reflecting the surface patterns with the placement of the bodies. and having backgrounds which compliment and confuse the image into one continuous pattern – without end.
Pictured above are the Chimbu Skeleton tribe of papua new guinea, who paint themselves with clay and charcoal to look like the living dead. Most of this series for the Human canvas project were taken in black and white and only black and white paint was used to paint the body – I think that as a series of images it links them all and they are a beautiful exhibition of photographs. I do feel as though the contrast is beautiful and thought-provoking and this quote which I found in my research comes to mind.
‘Part of the profound beauty of a painted face is that you can’t see the color of the skin beneath. All you see are the eyes — the very human eyes. My explorations into the earliest human art and cultures convince me that we all truly are one people, sharing a universal view of life and our core aspirations, originating in a single fundamental culture — which anthropologists today tell us began with a small group of modern humans in Africa and subsequently spread around the world and diversified. By using cultural images, I believe we remind our public audiences of the unity of the family of humanity.’ Through my research i’m constantly reminded of human existence and how the western world has attempted to infect every corner of this beautiful world we live in and not always had a positive impact. With one act we celebrate the cultural diversity of every human and animal living on this planet and with another we stamp out anything we don’t understand or can’t use for monetary gain. with the human race’s technological advancements we are ever to often reminded of the cost and effect on the planet. Images of deforestation, animals stranded in trees in the middle of destruction due to our need to consume, with this need to keep advancing and destroying not only have we lost areas of untouched beautiful nature but we have lost many tribal communities and indigenous people – it’s what Americas built on. Even in Papua new guniea one of the most remote places, completely un-discovered by the western world till the 1930’s, religious traditions have been near enough eradicated by christianity.
Papua New Guinea is an Island in the pacific ocean located North of Australia and East of Indonesia. Papua New Guinea has a rich diverse cultural landscape and developed independently as the first contact from the outside world was only in the 1930’s. There is an estimated 7000 different cultural groups in Papua New Guinea and the diversity of these groups is fascinating and beautiful, all speaking different languages and performing unique customs. Nowhere else in the world is there this many tribal communities who part-take in body painting and adorn themselves with beautiful designs and costume pieces from the Huli wig men to the Chimbu skeleton tribe. The customs and artistic style vary dramatically, each tribe having a beautifully strong visual identity, and taking pride in their artistry. Groups travel far to attend local sing sings, in which they compete for accolades and attempt to prove themselves as the most fearsome warriors and successful tribe. Still to this day its thought that tribes in very remote places of Png have had no contact with the outside world.
The Huli wig men as there name suggests practice the custom of making elaborate headdresses using there own hair and feathers of the beautiful bird of paradise making themselves attractive but also fearsome to rival clansmen. They also decorate themselves with embellishments such as the beak of a hornbill which symbolises strength and courage when in battle. The biggest drive it seems for these culturally diverse groups is to appear stronger, braver and better than neighbouring tribes – competition has never been so brutal with tribal disputes ending in murder and battle in some cases. There is something quite enthralling about the disparity between the beauty of the costumes, paint and cultural traditions and the reason behind the high level of artistry and creativity – gruesome survival. If there’s one tribal group that seem to encompass those themes it’s Chimbu skeleton tribe pictured below.
Imagine walking in the thick, low, clouds of the Papua New Guinea highlands and through the dense fog, skeletal forms appear like some kind of vision from the underworld, it would feel like death was nearing. The chimbu and the Goroka tribe or Asaro mud-men take there fearful aesthetic deadly seriously – the more fearsome and other-worldly they look the more likely they will survive as rival tribes will run in fear. The Mud men of the Goroka tribe sculpt amazing masks from clay building them up over time – adding pigs teeth and other natural accessories making them look even more out of this world and frightening.
This Is really an appreciation post for this man’s body of work – The discovery of his work, Images and understanding his contribution to body art and the world of fine art has been a real inspiration. There are many videos put together by other artists who have been inspired by his body of work, one is linked below but you can find them on youtube and vimeo and they are pieces of art in themselves. His photographs are beautiful the elements of composition and the relationship between the natural form – painted or unpainted are breathtaking. The locations in which he chooses to shoot really explore the beauty of the earth. I think his work really is a discussion about human existence and what the point of it all is? And how we navigate those huge questions. The colours used to paint the skin in Jean Paul Bourdier’s work are clearly thought out with much consideration of the natural landscapes – it’s not just an after thought every image is thought out as a painting would be – colours -composition and how the two relate, there is a deep connection between the model and the surrounding nature. He also paints elements of the natural world using chalk and coloured sand to create strange alien like landscapes.
Is to release
Of one’s passage
From ‘Thoughts’ the artists poetic stream of consciousness
How it all started – Last year one of our associate artists an amazing Brazilian dancer/choreographer and dear friend Adriana was on the Journey of becoming a Mother to beautiful Noah this coincided with the project coming together and we needed some initial images and exploration to push project. Below are some images of the outcome.
Painting Adrianna was a beautiful experience she is someone who I love and admire a great deal and to be able to be apart of this process with her was wonderful. It was my first time painting someones whole body and we didn’t fully know how long it was going to take, which did mean at some points I felt under-pressure. The whole experience from start to finish was very powerful, we had brief discussions with Adrianna prior to the paint about designs and what she was feeling about it, however because I know Adrianna I was given artistic freedom to come up with a design which I felt represented who Adrianna was and would evolve into through the life-affirming process of motherhood. For me and Emily our initial thought was Yemanja, the Orixa Goddess of the Yoruba religion. Yemanja is very important to Adriana personally and culturally and Yemanja is the goddess of motherhood, ‘the mother of mothers’, She resides in the oceans and is the female life-force of the world, over-seeing fisherman and their catches and protecting all children.
I wanted my design to represent this, Yemanja is often depicted as a mermaid, and half of Adrianna’s body was covered in scales, but also in my design was the grounding presence of Gaia – Mother Earth. I thinking having the harmonious connection of both powerful entities for me represented the Old Adrianna and the New Adrianna as a mother. The whole process was very beautiful and the experience I think will be a powerful one for Adrianna for years to come and it’s lovely to have such beautiful images to mark the transition.