Clay Body Art


New Guinea Face Paint - yellow and red

New Guinea face painting art


The Art of skin painting


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.


aboriginal face painting


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.


Chinese Opera Performance


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.

Tribal Art New Guinea

Papuan tribe



Face painting

Papua New Guinea Face Art

Australian Aboriginal Body Art

Members of Tjapukai Dance Theatre — Image by © Free Agents Limited/CORBIS



Australian Aboriginal Body Art

African Face Art

Surma and Mursi tribesperson. Omo Valley, Southern Ethiopia

Face Art Omo Valley, Southern Ethiopia

Face Painting Omo Valley, Southern Ethiopia



Face Painting Art 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 Warriors

New Guinea Highlands Warrior Procession



Warrior Face Painting New Guinea

Warrior face paint



Warrior March New Guinea Highlands

New Guinea Highland Warrior Procession



African Traditional Dance

African traditional ceremonial dancing.



Face painted Kikuyu woman – Kenya  ( Ochre Clay Face Mask )

eric lafforgue

Ethiopian face art

photo Hans Sylvester



Photo by Dmitri Markine



Moroccan Hand Painting



Daegu International Bodypainting Festival – Korea



Omo Valley face painting – photo Hans Sylvester



Papuan tribal face paint in red and black

Papuan face paint in red and black

Tribal Paint On New Guinea  Child



Papuan Face Paint

Papuan Face Paint



Ethiopian tribal face art

Omo Valleytribal face art


Tribal paint fashion shoot

( Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello )



Tiwi ceremonial body design   ( )



New Guniea Warrior festival

New Guniea warrior festival



2010 – Daegu International Bodypainting Festival – Korea



Red and white face paint

PNG facepaint




Omo Valley tribal face art

Omo Valley tribal face art



Omo Valley Body Art

Omo Valley Body Art



Photo by Dmitri Markine



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 by Ronnie James

Girl from the Hamer tribe of Ethiopia

Photo by Ronnie James

17th World Bodypainting Festival took place in Pörtschach, an Austrian town,17th World Body painting Festival took place in Pörtschach, Austria




Dutch post Impressionist Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night.’

Painted byDannySetiawan

2010 Daegu International Bodypainting Festival model

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

Anna Papa posing after Danny Setiawan painted a Japenese koi-fish on her back.

Danny Setiawan painting of a Japenese koi fish

Australian Body Art Carnivale -Photo Christina Pfeiffer

Australian Body Art Carnivale – Sunshine Coast

Photo Christina Pfeiffer




( )


Surma Child with Beaded Necklace, Ethiopia

( )

Mudpack Festival 2011 Anton Manso

Mudpack Festival 2011 Anton Manso

Nature's-spa-in-Mambukal Mudpack festival

Mambukal Mudpack festival, Phillipines

Halloween body art Caravan Music Club

Halloween body art – Caravan Music Club


Wodaabe tribal art  – Niger, Africa


Body Art--Australian Body Art Carnivale-2013--Sunshine-Coast---YouTube

Australian Body Art Carnivale – 2013

abstract face makeup laura-ferreira

Textured face make-up

Photo Laura Ferreira





Aztec inspired body painting and headpiece

Photo.Jan Hetfleisch –  Getty Images

Face painting - Theyyam by Rahul Sadagopan on Flickr

Theyyam by Rahul Sadagopan on Flickr

Klifordinator deviantart photomanipulation

Klifordinator digital art


Jouvert-Trinidad carnival

Reveller at the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 2013


Mayan face painting

avilo on Flickr

Papua New Guinea tribal art

Face art – Papua New Guinea



full body art

Full body art



Body painting photography by Ciucciapunti (Federico-Rossi)

African mask

Mask carving -Africa






  1. Ben Carson
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    this was a very helpful sight for my assignment and i am very happy.

    Regards, Carson

  2. Jane Smith
    Posted June 3, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    This is a fantastic site. I am a newsletter editor for Newcastle Studio Potters and we love being inspired by other cultures and countries. Thanks for bringing a little bit of ‘international’ clay to our eyes.

  3. Posted December 8, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink


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