The Story On Our Skin: Looking for Identity — A Racebridges Video

A StoryFace by Christopher Agostino asking the question: Why do we paint ourselves?   #storyfaces

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video:  The Story On Our Skin: Looking for Identity Beyond Appearance

I was invited by Susan O’Halloran to create a story for her RaceBridges Storytelling Project to be videotaped at the National Storytelling Conference in Richmond, VA, this past August. I was one of perhaps a couple dozen performers who taped a story that day, one after the other, to add to this growing collection of personal tales of “inspiration, laughter and tears and the ongoing search for the American identity.” See over 100 videos at RaceBridgesVideos.com and learn about this resource for schools and other organizations.

And join in this October 9th, 10th and 11th, when over 70 of these video stories will play as part of the Stories Connect Us All online festival on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/StoriesConnectUsAll), allowing me and many of the other storytellers to participate in online interactions via questions and comments on the Facebook page. My video is scheduled to be a capstone of the festival, broadcast as the final story on October 11 at 9:30 pm (central time).

The RaceBridges Project asks storytellers to tell personal tales about their experiences with race and identity, and, as a facepainter, my working experience centers on very fundamental questions about the connection between appearance and identity, and what the ability to transform appearance means for personal and social identity, as lensed through my research into the origins and cultural significance of this art of transformation that I practice.

 

The Text:

“Why do we paint ourselves?”

a StoryFace by Christopher Agostino ©2013

As we humans first became self-aware we began to paint our skin.   Aware of who we are, aware of our place in the world.   Why did we paint ourselves?   The answer may be lost in the black charcoal and white ash of our first fires, in the ochre colored earths of where we first lived — for these are materials still used as makeups.   Was it through such colors that we first saw our skin as a vehicle of identity?   The color red signifies power and vitality in bodyart around the world — from the faces of the heroes in Chinese and Japanese theatre to the ring of red that frames the face of Maasai warriors.   How long has this been true?

When we first marked our skin, was it only as decoration?   Or were they marks of identity?   Could they be read, like the swirls of Maori tattoos, or the iconic symbol worn like a name badge by the Plains Indian, Bull Buffalo?   Were we saying, “look at my skin to know who I am”?  In celebrations of who we are we still paint ourselves, from modern birthday parties to village festivals in the Omo River Valley of Ethiopia.  The young men of the Southeast Nuba would paint their bodies every day in fantastic designs as a celebration of the beauty of humanity — for we are so beautiful that we deserve to be art.

From ancient rituals and the theatre born of them, to today’s incarnations in Halloween and Hollywood movies, the makeup artist brings our dreams, our gods, to life — and our nightmares too — raising us beyond our daily identities into the supernatural, giving form to our aspirations.  As a modern facepainter I’ve learned that more important than what I paint on someone’s face is how that painting makes them feel as the world sees them anew, transformed.

Our skin is the edge of who we are, where we touch the world.   As we paint our skin we transform the way the world sees us to take control of our identity.  Yet there is a duality of understanding that comes through these transformations, for if we can change identity by changing appearance, than we should come to understand that all appearance is transitory, mutable.   A fundamental function of mask and body arts in traditional cultures is as proof that forms can change, that to understand the true nature of the world you must look beyond form, to spirit. You must look beyond the mask.

No matter how many thousands of faces I’ve painted, or what I’ve painted on them, one element always remains the same. The eyes. The human eyes that look back at me, through the mask.  And through the painted mask, everyone’s eyes seem to look the same to me, as I imagine they have always looked since the beginning, when we first became aware.

 

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This “MultiFace” image came from a makeup design I painted on myself in 2006 as the author’s photo in the frontispiece of my book. Around that time, I occasionally used a version of the design in a performance piece for educational settings, in which I painted a volunteer’s face with multiple sections of traditional designs to demonstrate different cultural uses of bodyart.

Learn more about StoryFaces.

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2012 Transformations — Face Painting Gallery

by Christopher Agostino

Faces, and a few bodypaintings, from 2012. Mostly by me and some by our company members.With the exception of the bodypainting models, all of these are photos of regular people painted at events around New York. The photos are arranged by name, rather than chronologically, so this year it starts with aliens and ends up with zebras and zombies. The names I give designs help me sort and find them, and also help me remember new ideas while I’m working. It’s very rare these days that I ask someone what they want to be before I paint them. Almost always I’m surprising them, which means I need to have lots of my own ideas ready, so I bring a list of names  as a reminder of design concepts. And it’s very helpful to have a name for what you’ve just turned somebody into, especially when you are being inventive. Part of the fun of surprising someone is talking to them about what they are becoming to build the anticipation, giving them the story.

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Click here for the slideshow:  2012 Transformations Video  music by Jeremy Agostino

The 2012 Transformations Gallery:

click on the photos to see the names of the images

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BodyStory Video Experiment 1 — Peacock and the Sun Goddess

BodyStory Video Experiment 1 — Peacock and the Sun Goddess

The Peacock and the Sun Goddess BodyStory was an experiment for a class presentation at the Face and Body Art International Convention in 2012 (FABAIC). For my class on storytelling I tried out a new idea (new for me – see below) of taking the methods I use for telling a story via facepainting onto a painted body — using a fully painted body in choreographed movements to accompany my narrative. I had done this with several performers and much assistance to perform the story Li Chi Slays the Dragon as part of our Bodies Alive! production at FABAIC 2008, but that felt more like a theatre piece and this was meant to stay closer to the stylistic quality of storytelling.

The Peacock and the Sun Goddess BodyStory was conceived and presented as a live performance. As the concept seems well designed for video I took the fotos and video we’d made as documentation and created this video in iMovie. (The wonderful music is Indian Fever by David Starfire, which I found on the album “Six Degrees Free Indian Music Sampler” on Amazon. The model was a non-professional, so I’ll withhold her name) The next step in the video experiment will be to create a BodyStory design specifically for video, and explore what is possible without the design limitations inherent in a live performance.

See the BodyStories Page to learn more about other BodyStory projects, including “Is This the First Story?” based on an 18,000 year old cave painting.

To be clear, nothing in art is ever truly new—especially in an art form as ancient as bodypainting. In saying that these experiments feel “new for me” I’m not saying that I’ve invented something here. Aboriginal Australian bodypainting may go back 40,000 years in a continuous line and in some cases, particularly in the context of ritual initiations, their bodyart tells complex mythological tales (to name just one precedent). Nothing is new.

To learn more about our programs and performances:  http://www.agostinoarts.com

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Painted Bodies: Africa — Video of Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher

Wodaabe men decorated for the Geerewol celebration, making themselves attractive so that a woman might select them for courtship

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have been learning about and photographing the traditional cultures of Africa for 30 years, and have published several books of their work, including a seminal text on the subject: African Ceremonies (Abrams, 1999).

In September 2012 they came out with a book focusing more specifically on bodyart traditions:  Painted Bodies: African Body Painting, Tattoos and Scarification  (find it on amazon) and I received a link (via Craig Tracy) to a National Geographic Live! video of these two remarkable ethnologists talking about this new book and their journeys to these remote African cultures to create such a record of vanishing traditions.

VIDEO:   National Geographic Live! – Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher: Painted Bodies of Africa

 

Girls of the Surma people, Ethiopia. In the video, Carol and Angela discuss how fragile such traditions are. Omo River cultures such as the Surma and Karo are going through drastic changes this year, as a new dam on the river will do away with the annual flooding that their way of life has depended on.

 

To learn more about our programs and performances:  http://www.agostinoarts.com

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Beautiful Bellies

 

Our artists have been transforming the faces of New York for over 25 years.  Here they bring their artistry to the most beautiful canvas of all.  

 

Custom hand-painted designs offering a mother-to-be the opportunity to celebrate her and her baby’s transformation with an original, beautiful work of art. Though the bodypaint will easily wash away, the photograph and memories remain to be cherished for a lifetime.

How do you come up with the design?

You will correspond and collaborate with an artist to come up with a personal, meaningful design.  Our artists can be inspired by your family heritage, nursery designs, or cultural images from around the world.

Where does the painting take place?

A belly can be painted in the comfort of your own home or in a photographer’s studio of your choice. The painting itself takes around one hour, depending on the design.  Once the painting is complete, a photograph helps capture the beautiful canvas.  You may wish to share the experience with loved ones and include belly painting as a baby shower activity. Though the paint will wash away, the photograph will be cherished for a lifetime.

What is it like to be painted?

Your belly will be hand-painted using soft sponges and brushes, a relaxing therapeutic sensation. The make-up used is an FDA approved water based make-up that is very safe for both mommy and baby. The make-up itself is very lightweight comes off easily with soap and water.

Contact us for prices and more information: info@agostinoarts.com

 

“Thanks again for the amazing experience…you gave me the most wonderful gift!” -Heidi, Brooklyn

Consider a gift certificate for a pregnant belly painting as a unique baby shower gift.

Go to our website for more information on all our programs: agostinoarts.com

 

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