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Showing your true colours: Body painting and its origins

14 Sep

We all love going to parties and getting our skin covered with colourful symbols and drawings; but have you ever wondered what’s the story behind this practice? Well we have, and here’s a quick summary of what we found out.

Since the beginning of mankind

Self-expression through body painting is believed to be one of the first forms of art, tracing back to the beginning of times and spreading all over the world. The significance and symbolism behind it varies from place to place. Rites of passage such as marriage or puberty, war and religious celebrations are all connected by some form of body art.

Indigenous tribes in Australia, for example, used different motifs stamped on their skin to mark their position in the tribe, their relationships and family ties and even their connection to the land.

Drawings were passed down to family members just as physical objects are today.

In some areas of South America body painting and ornamentation were used for both aesthetic and religious purposes. They believed that the body alone was not “completely human”, so they needed to be transformed into social beings by painting and decorating their skin.

A more popular example is the Bindi worn in India and some other parts of Asia. This “drop” placed between the eyes is mentioned in India’s Rig Veda, their most ancient text, and it has been used for around 5,000 years. It represents the third eye or the spiritual seat of consciousness.

Modern times

Modern civilisations adopted this custom in the 20th century; more specifically during the 1960’s hippie riots and protests. They used bright, colourful paintings to separate themselves from what they rejected and to express their affiliation to a common cause.

Nowadays this form of self-expression is still standing. We use it for recreation and as a form of art. Parties and parades filled with colour are a typical picture of our times; and luckily this fun and artsy practice keeps growing and evolving.

So, next time you decorate your skin before a party, you will know you’re actually connecting to the very roots of human civilisation.

Did you know?

There’s a body painting competition held once a year in Austria. Artists from 50 nations take part in it and it attracts over 30,000 spectators!

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