By Carmem Gusmão / Translation: Gerald Chaves
The human body was the first canvas used for painting. Our ancestors early on realized the skin becomes more beautiful and attractive when covered with symbols and colors. My passion for ancient cultures and Mother Nature has inspired my craft. I lived in Belem for ten years, a city near the Amazonian rainforest. And, body painting is indeed one of the greatest expressions of Indian art.
As example, the clothing of the Kayapo Indian is the paint of their bodies. Lines, shapes and colors drawn on the skin tell the age and offspring of each one. The artwork they paint on themselves can represent the symbol of a different tribe or it can state the history of them. They use paprika seeds to make red, Genipap fruit to get blue and black and limestone to make the white color.
Body painting is not only ritualistic, but also is worn for beauty. The paint takes on a Spiritual representation from nature. The different shapes were passed on by the “IDJASO” which roughly translates to the spirits of good and evil. These symbols are then painted on by the body painters of the tribe. They have different names that symbolize animals and plants from the river and jungle. Different paintings are used according to gender and social status within the community. I was amazed to see this process up-close and personal. They use a Brazilian buriti stick as a paint brush which looks like a magic wand. It’s like a moving masterpiece that talks and smiles. It is like diving into a surrealistic artwork.
For a long time the practice of body painting, outside of the Indian communities, became restricted to the field of facial cosmetics. However, today there is an artistic expression called “Body Painting”, that tries to recreate the transforming magic of those early experiences. Today, we have much more sophisticated means than our ancestors; such as using henna as stylish means, airbrushing, and acrylics. This new trend is shared by all the ages alike and stems from these ancient cultures.
*Carmem Gusmao was born in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil but grew up in Amazonia in the heart of the rain forest. She has won several Gold and Acquisition Awards since 1988. Her richly colored, mystical and soulful paintings have a powerful emotional impact. More recently, she has incorporated jewelry design into her work – carmemgusmao.com