Body painting is not something new for Pride parades, or World Naked Bike Rides, or for some publicity, or for a modern art installation. It has roots that go back a long ways as these images from South America and Africa hints at.
Celtic warriors from the past were known to be painted in order to instil fear into their enemies. My first meeting with the idea of body art was through my father who got a tattoo as a soldier, a symbol of sorts of who he was as a soldier.
In a way, we still do the same thing today at sporting events where it is the fans in the stands who get painted up for battle-by-proxy. Of course, it isn’t just painted faces for sporting events, there is hardly a children’s event without face-painting or temporary tattoos as part of the event.
A number of years ago, it became an art form that was looking to stretch the boundaries of the art world with living art. It didn’t take long for the nudist world to adapt the activity for their purposes such as the World Naked Bike Ride that rolls through many cities around the world. There is the aspect of theatre which allows people to disguise their normal self for the events, daring to be nude in public.
With the introduction of large scale body-painting events such as the Hull, Sea of Blue, by Spencer Tunick, there becomes even more anonymity – perhaps even a hint of democracy – because of large numbers. And in the process, the human body is being seen clothing free by a larger public who are curious. The fear factor of the naked human body is wearing down, bit by bit because of these efforts, with body-painting being an integral part of that shift in consciousness about nudity.