Each and every human being on earth has inherited the legacy of body art from his/her ancestors. The extent to which body art is practiced may vary for each individual but there is no escape from this cultural practice for us. …
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From the extreme examples like punk, to being selective in the colour or design of the dress one wears- body art has supposedly normal and not so normal manifestations. Shildkrout (2001) in the article, Body Art as Visual Language, has revealed the primal impulse behind the use of body as an artistic and cultural expression, “if the impulse to create art is one of the defining signs of humanity, the body may well have been the first canvas” (pp.1). Body painting, make up, body shaping, hair styling, scarification, tattooing, piercing, and dressing up in clothes constitute the expansive genre of body art. The functional aspect of body art has been described as supporting “to rebel, to follow fashion, or to play and experiment with new identities” (Shildkrout, 2001, pp.2). Apart from this functional aspect, the use of body as a starting point in artistic expression has gone rather unexplored. This essay envisages finding out the connection between body art and artistic expression and presupposes that the rebellion-aspect of body art inspires artistic expressions while the tradition-aspect blocks it. If we consider each kind of body art separately, it can be seen that different meanings are associated with different kinds of body art. For example, body painting can enhance the beauty, impart a divine countenance, provide protection, masquerade and establish a group identity. Similarly, make up has the function of increasing visual appeal, providing a false identity or concealing the original one, as well as establishing authority and status. Hair styling also can enhance beauty appeal, establish a group identity or visualize rebellion. Body shaping ranges from the primitive practice of skull shaping to the modern plastic surgery, all of which again has multiple functionalities. Scarification, tattooing and piercing have more to do with group identity and rebellion. But there are also less visible uses of body art like the use of piercing as a religious ritual and the use of make up to convey codified meaning as in Kabuki theatre (Shildkrout, 2001, pp.2-4). Body art has a great many things to do with our everyday lives and it is this aspect that brightens up the narrative of Meeta Kaur in her autobiographical essay, Journey By Inner Light (2006). Here, the basic emotions associated with body art are discussed, which is after all about being happy and content about one’s own self. Kaur (2006) has started her essay by describing the beauty of her mother’s hair, the good care that her mother gives it and the passing over of this tradition to herself (pp.39). This is a clear example of how artistic expression is evident in our everyday lives. As the narrative progresses, the reader become aware of the cultural identity that is associated with long hair, for Kaur’s mother and herself (2006, pp.40). Kaur’s being a migrant family from India to America, she believes that her mother’s long hair is “an allegiance to a homeland” (2006, pp.40). Kaur (2006) also has remarked that her mother’s hair “ is a light that provides a sense of place and home between any borders, on any soil, whether she is in India, America, or any other country” (pp.40). It can be seen that in this instance, body art as simple as maintaining one’s hair long has a meaning that is deep-rooted in tradition. The second encounter of Kaur (2006) with body art is when she goes back to India, and in a comic book, sees the picture of “the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, […] (in) a navy blue turban and a golden robe and […] (having) a long silky beard” talking about religious freedom (pp.41). This visual also reminds how body art can impart great status to a person’s appearance. The “
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