For many ancient tribes and cultures , face and body art has been an integral part of their rituals, festivals and displays of heirarchy. Depending on the occasion , face painting was used as a beautifying practice or could be adapted to be terrifying for hunting and tribal battles.
It was suggested by Joseph Jordania that body painting, together with dancing, loud group singing, rhythmic stomping and drumming on external objects, contributed to reaching a specific altered state of consciousness and a battle trance through these ritualized activities. In this state tribe members sacrificed their individuality and assumed a shared collective identity, where they were able to transcend their feelings of fear and pain and were fully dedicated to the group interests. This state was crucial for the physical survival of the hominids in order to defend themselves from predators after they shifted from the relatively safety of trees to the more dangerous ground dwellings. Shamans also used face art in conquering their notion of limited self to assist them in embracing higher forces.
Sometimes the whole tribe used similar decorative appearances which eliminated differences and contributed to tribal bonding. This can still be witnessed in tribal ceremonies in Africa and New Guinea. Not only is the body art used to augment one’s appearance and power, it is a sacred social act of distinction which characterises their tribe and cultural heritage.
The first instances of the use of painting materials (ochre, manganese dioxide) by human ancestors predates the first cave paintings by tens or possibly hundred of thousands of the years,and some scholars suggest that the painting materials were used by human ancestors for painting their own bodies. Roots, berries and tree barks were most commonly used to make the dyes for face painting. These natural raw materials were ground and made into a paste and mixed with clay powders.. Clay of different hues were also used on their own. In some occasions there was a strcit ritualistic order for applying the make up.
The Australian Aborigines have the widespread belief that ochre paint has magical powers and is held in regard as being sacred. It is symbolic with blood in secret ceremonies. Body painting to the Aborigines was also a process of shifting their identity, to be replaced by a representation of their ancestral totem, usually an animal. On a more pragmatic level, smearing the whole body with earth, coloured charcoal and animal fat, ostensibly to camouflage smell when hunting, but also probably to maintain body temperature. In tropical areas, coating the skin with earth and fat kept sand-flies and mosquitoes at a distance.
In Chinese culture, especially with opera. face paint designs are linked to dramatic performances, and are often very complex and ornate. Typically, multiple contrasting colors are used and between them cover the entirety of the face. For example, the face might be typically painted red, black and white.
Papua New Guinea Face Art
Members of Tjapukai Dance Theatre — Image by © Free Agents Limited/CORBIS
Australian Aboriginal Body Art
Surma and Mursi tribesperson. Omo Valley, Southern Ethiopia
Face Painting Omo Valley, Southern Ethiopia
From the Hans Sylvester photos of the Surma and Mursi people in Southern Ethiopia in the Omo Valley.
Fifteen tribes have lived in this region since time immemorial, and many use zebra skins for leggings, snail shells for necklaces and clay to stick their wonderful designs to their heads.
As they paint each other’s bodies and make bold decisions about their outfits(all without the aid of mirrors), it seems that the only thing that motivates them is the sheer fun of creating their looks, and showing them off to other members of the tribe. As a celebration of themselves and of their stunning environment.
New Guinea Highlands Warrior Procession
Warrior face paint
New Guinea Highland Warrior Procession
African traditional ceremonial dancing.
Face painted Kikuyu woman – Kenya ( Ochre Clay Face Mask )
photo Hans Sylvester
Photo by Dmitri Markine www.dmitrimarkine.com
Moroccan Hand Painting
Daegu International Bodypainting Festival – Korea
Omo Valley face painting – photo Hans Sylvester
Papuan face paint in red and black
Tribal Paint On New Guinea Child
Papuan Face Paint
Omo Valleytribal face art
Tribal paint fashion shoot
( Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello )
Tiwi ceremonial body design (janesoceania.com )
New Guniea warrior festival
2010 – Daegu International Bodypainting Festival – Korea
Omo Valley tribal face art
Omo Valley Body Art
Photo by Dmitri Markine www.dmitrimarkine.com
Surma guy just after completion of decoration
Surma face painting – Surmas reside in South Sudan, and Southwestern Ethiopia
New Guinea child face art
Tribal face painting Eastern Cape
photo – Lister Hunter
Girl from the Hamer tribe of Ethiopia
Photo by Ronnie James
17th World Body painting Festival took place in Pörtschach, Austria
Dutch post Impressionist Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night.’
2010 Daegu International Bodypainting Festival face painting
South Australian artist Emma Hack created a car sculpture involving 17 men and women for a MAC anti speeding campaign
South Australian artist Emma Hack’s painted bodies car sculpture
Danny Setiawan painting of a Japenese koi fish
Australian Body Art Carnivale – Sunshine Coast
Photo Christina Pfeiffer
( consciousnessrevival.com )
Surma Child with Beaded Necklace, Ethiopia
( carolbeckwith-angelafisher.com )
Mudpack Festival 2011 Anton Manso
Mambukal Mudpack festival, Phillipines
Halloween body art – Caravan Music Club
Wodaabe tribal art – Niger, Africa
Australian Body Art Carnivale – 2013
Textured face make-up
Photo Laura Ferreira
Aztec inspired body painting and headpiece
Photo.Jan Hetfleisch – Getty Images
Theyyam by Rahul Sadagopan on Flickr
Klifordinator digital art
Reveller at the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 2013
Mayan face painting
avilo on Flickr
Face art – Papua New Guinea
Full body art
Body painting photography by Ciucciapunti (Federico-Rossi)
Mask carving -Africa