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The issue of the exoticizing power of photographs was something I (and some of my colleagues) thought a great deal about in curating the current exhibition "Body Art: Marks of Identity" at the American Museum of Natural History. One way we dealt with this difficult subject was to include a section (1 of 5 in the exhibit) called "Representations" in which we examined the subject of the exoticizing and ostracizing power of images of body art. This problem was obviously on our minds throughout the planning of the exhibition and I guess its up to viewers, reviewers and visitors to reach their own conclusions on whether or not we succeeded in raising these issues in a responsible way. In so far as we dealt with exotic images of non-western societies, including Africa, we tried to treat western practices the same way. For those who aren't in New York and are interested in taking a look, I'd like to refer you to the AMNH website (http://www.amnh.org) I also attach two recent reviews (there have been many earlier ones since the exhibit opened Nov 20, 1999) - the one by Ihsan Bouabid for Interpress Service especially picks up on how we dealt with some of these important issues. Note one correction, the film "Cannibal Tours" was not made by the BBC - it is distributed by Documentary Educational Research. (In the same theater, the exhibit also includes an excerpt from the BBC film on the Nuba, made with anthropologist Jim Faris.) ************************************************* February 23, 2000, Wednesday LENGTH: 1175 words HEADLINE: ART-U.S.: BODY ART AND ITS MULTIPLE MARKS OF IDENTITY BYLINE: By Ihsan Bouabid DATELINE: NEW YORK, Feb. 23 BODY: For thousands of years, people worldwide have turned to a wide variety of image-enhancing products in order to mark their status in society or a group, or as a rite of passage from childhood to maturity. The history of self-adornment is explored in a wide-ranging exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History of New York. Titled "Body Art, Marks of Identity," the exhibition opened last November and runs through May 29, 2000. It focuses on some of the ways that people from every corner of the world, past and present, have marked their skin and shaped their bodies, from female foot-binding in China and tooth- staining in Japan, to scarification in Congo and Masai ear-ornaments in Kenya, through henna in North Africa, India and Pakistan to tattooing in Polynesia and elsewhere. "We open the door to understanding cultural diversity and individual identity, and to foster a greater appreciation and tolerance of ourselves and others," says a statement issued by the museum. The images, tools and videos presented throughout the galleries stress that every culture has its own idea of what is beautiful. These definitions of beauty influence how we think about other people and how we treat them. Body art is often used to help people communicate with the spiritual forces they believe in. In different cultures, paint or ornaments prepare the body for special ceremonies. One part of the show highlights the Arctic Eskimo/Inuit culture. A picture shows a boy who has received his first lip ornament, or "labret," at puberty. Small cuts were made in his lower lip and, over the next year, small ivory pins of gradually increasing size were inserted in the holes. For the Inuit, the labret marked a man's status and his right to marry and hunt. His wife will later wear the ivory pins on her belt. In Saint Lawrence Island, Siberian Yupik Eskimo women wore chin tattoos as a sign of sexual maturity, and at puberty. In one healing ritual, tattoos were applied to the joints of both men and women at places corresponding to acupuncture points. The tribe's elder women were considered the tattooing experts. By the end of the 19th century, when whaling and hunting became obsolete as the foundations of Eskimo and Inuit cultures, traditional forms of body art disappeared. Several pictures and a short video offer insight on henna ceremonies before a wedding in Morocco and in a Pakistani family in Queens, New York. In both the Berber/Moroccan and the Mehendi/Pakistan ceremony, the night before a wedding, the hands and feet of the bride are adorned with delicate traditional designs applied with henna. Applied as a paste with crushed henna leaves combined with herbs, water, lemon or milk, henna is also used as a cosmetic for the hair and the body, as a medicine, and most importantly for beauty, good luck and celebration in North Africa, the Gulf countries, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. With an anthropological approach, the exhibition shows how in some cultures, like the Native North Americans, tattoos are worn for protection like amulets. Tattooing instruments made of wood, metal, feathers, quills, sinew, sand or pebbles are exhibited in the North American gallery, together with parfleches made by women in the 18th and 20th centuries and decorated with elongated decorations resembling tattoos. Parfleches are rawhide bags used to transport food and utensils. From Africa to Oceania, tattoos were used to honor a successful hunter, a spiritual accomplishment or the achievements of one's relatives. For the Mangbetu rulers of what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo, an elongated head, shaped by painlessly binding the skull in infancy, was fashionable at the turn of the 20th century. To emphasise the wrapped head, women created elaborate hairstyles and men wore beautiful baskets and feather hats. An array of ivory and metal pins decorated both hats and hairdos. Head wrapping went out of fashion by 1920 due to Western influence, and people began to associate it with "backwardness," the accompanying text explains. At the same time, Europeans who connected the elegant head shape with images of ancient Egypt imitated head elongation in European fashion and adopted it as a symbol of the "exotic African." Today, body art and fashion are inspired by the ideas and traditions of other cultures. The exhibition also presents the perceptions different cultures have of each other, including a section of rare 18th century Japanese paintings that depict the arrival of the first Europeans. The way many Westerners view the body art of other cultures goes back to Captain James Cook's report from Tahiti in 1769, when the word "tattoo" was first introduced into the English language -- a corruption of the Tahitian word "tatau." With a critical approach, "Body Art, Marks of Identity" dedicates an entire section to world fairs, from the mid-19th century through World War II. The World's Fair promoted Western imperial and industrial power, scientific dominance and ideas about the relative status of different races. It was the occasion for exhibiting ethnological villages that presented certain people as "uncivilized." Built on the fair's midways and set alongside carnival attractions such as ferris wheels and menageries, these villages constituted the "largest quasi-scientific exhibits of humans ever produced," according to the American Museum of Natural History. For example, on the occasion of the Saint Louis World's Fair of 1904, more than 2,000 people of different cultures and races were put on display. Since then, body art has become a major theme on printed postcards and collected in albums. A collection of postcards dating from late 19th century to the present is also part of the current exhibition. In modern Europe and the United States, tattooing and piercing are essentially forms of self-expression. They were first used by sailors to remember their travels, and by soldiers during the World Wars. From images of love and loyalty, the turning point in tattoo imagery was the Vietnam War and the women's movement. Since then, the tattoo has become a sign of rebellion and counterculture, such as bikers, hippies rock and roll performers. In the U.S. and with the invention of the electric tattooing needle in 1890, tattoo artists began to set up permanent shops in the Bowery and Coney Island (in New York) and near U.S. navy bases. Photographs from Bettina Witteveen's exhibit "Hybrid Identities" (1997-98) offer a wide range of modern tattoos covering limbs or entire bodies. The exhibition comes to the conclusion that body art is also "about the choices every one makes every day." It underlines that "People wash, cut, color, shave, curl or straighten their hair, put on make-up and get dressed to shock or just to fit in. People take most of their body art for granted, but if we think about going without it, then its power to communicate is clear." LANGUAGE: ENGLISH LOAD-DATE: February 24, 2000 Copyright 2000 The Financial Times Limited Financial Times (London) March 11, 2000, Saturday London Edition 1 SECTION: BACK PAGE - WEEKEND FT; Pg. 24 LENGTH: 725 words HEADLINE: BACK PAGE - WEEKEND FT: Age-old marks of identity that go skin deep: Body piercing may horrify many people, yet adornments like this have been around for thousands of years, writes Todd Shapera BYLINE: By TODD SHAPERA BODY: "It hurts me to look at them," says librarian Deborah Donaldson of the body piercing that decorates her 17-year-old daughter's friends. "Some parents don't even know their own daughter's tongues are pierced." But although Donaldson, of Chappaqua, New York, recoils at the subject of body art, anthropologists tell us that body adornment is age-old and that those periods in history, such as the Victorian era in Europe, when there was little or no body art, were the exception. Even the 4,000-year-old "iceman" mummy, discovered in the Alps in 1991, sported tattoos on his back and legs. And in New York's Museum of Natural History there is plenty of evidence of such practices throughout the ages. "Body Art: Marks of Identity" is an exhibition of 600 textiles, artefacts, drawings and photographs. Fittingly, Enid Schildkrout, the museum's anthropology director and curator of the exhibition, sports pierced ears. Why have cultures throughout history shaped, coloured, pierced, ornamented, painted, tattooed, and scarred their bodies? From ancient through to contemporary times, the practices were to do with deity, spirits, ancestors, community and family. Body adornments have represented rites of passage, or have been applied to enhance beauty, sexuality, and knowledge. The natural history museum's exhibition tells the story through a global journey: eastern Peru's Conibo people paint with geometric patterns that they believe govern the universe; Borneo's Dayak headhunters apply bead patterns to baby carriers to ward off rainforest spirits and adults wear dragon-dog tattoos for protection; Hindu brides accent gold jewellery and silk wedding clothes by painting henna floral designs on their hands; and elaborate scarification has helped the Congo's Luba women believe they are vehicles for spiritual power. (Scarification involves cutting the skin and inserting clay or ash to create permanently raised bumps, or keloids, giving a tattoo-like appearance.) In a museum renowned for its collection of dinosaurs and early fossils, this exhibition takes visitors from ancient Egypt to modern-day Chicago. The opening display features Japanese artisan, Horiyoshi III, photographed cradling his milky-skinned baby against his totally tattooed chest, which he accents with a nipple ring. It also includes a 19th century painting of a Chinook Indian woman using a cradleboard to flatten her baby's head. Further in, an Iroquois chief, who visited London in 1710, is seen wearing thunderbird tattoos, which signal bravery and a sacred birth. A similar imprint appears on a deerskin collected at the end of the 18th century, and is found later embroidered on tribal clothing - when missionaries discouraged tattooing. Inevitably, with the incursion of curious outsiders, spiritual images take on new economic power and appear on souvenir stands - some are even commissioned as canvases for western galleries. To illustrate this point, the exhibition includes part of a BBC film, Cannibal Tours, that shows aboriginal men in Papua New Guinea, skipping traditional chores to apply body paint in front of tourist cameras in return for pocket money. The museum's presentation also emphasises cross-cultural comparisons: a row of mannequins in women's undergarments stands opposite a display of Chinese silk slippers used for binding feet. And there are other practices that would certainly make Deborah Donaldson wince, such as head-shaping. The Congo's Mangbetu people bound the soft skulls of their babies with thread to elongate their skull. Similar practices go back 6,000 years in Chile, continued into the 18th century in France, and are still found in the Amazon. Today, tattooing is motivated by complex reasons. The inspiration can be a mix of fashion, sex appeal, rebellion, gang membership, or something personal, such as remembering a loved one. A Chicago tattoo artist, for example, explains that his own skin engravings mean he is "wearing his soul on the outside". Walking through the exhibition, one is struck that modern body sculpting, which is not covered, might not be new but is still going strong: with all the nipping, and tucking, steroid-injecting, and silicon-packing going on today the exhibition rooms are little more than a hall of mirrors. * The exhibition continues until May 29. LANGUAGE: ENGLISH LOAD-DATE: March 10, 2000 Copyright 2000 Inter Press Service Inter Press Service