Body Art

Nicholas Thomas
Thames & Hudson, 2014, 208 pp

Director and Curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University, Nicholas Thomas is the author of two previous Thames & Hudson art books, Oceanic Art and Possessions: Indigenous Art / Colonial Culture. The latter of these is a terrific read that joins the past and the present by placing the author on the street in Auckland in the midst of a review of historical and contemporary indigenous culture in New Zealand and Australia.

Body Art follows that immediacy by starting on a bus where Thomas imagines any of us, whether in Sydney, London or San Francisco, seeing on a suitably warm day many bodies bearing tattoos whose origins are far from those places. Amy Winehouse and David Beckham are cited as examples of the relatively recent mass take-up of the tattoo. Though the book touches on masks, scarification, costume and body painting it returns again and again to the shifting and complicated meanings of tattooing across cultures, countries and time zones. It is deeply informative with some astonishing images that provide a 'non-Western' survey of body modification. Its scope is immense yet although it mentions a few contemporary artists the doyen of the body Stelarc is not here; nor, indeed, is Orlan.

 

Support independent writing on the visual arts. Subscribe or donate here.