Body art: Living in and leaving the body behind

Maja Jerrentrup


Body painting uses a three-dimensional living canvas. While a widespread activity that can be characterized as a creative cultural scene, it has not yet merited anthropological attention. Even though body painting is closely related to the body, it is ultimately often about overcoming this very body. This process already takes place during the creation of the painting, when the model’s body is transformed into someone or something else, but even more so when it comes to the resulting visual representations, the photographs, in which the person’s body recedes into the background in favor of the overall picture, the artwork. The twofold staging—becoming a three-dimensional work of art and then being staged for a two-dimensional photograph—gradually distances the body from the model and gives them the chance to appreciate the photograph of their painted body in a different light. While physically and emotionally challenging for the model, body painting is also experienced as psychologically beneficial. Such research findings open up new possibilities for art therapy.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/718319