Sunday, 3 January 2010

Scarification and the 'Carnal Arts'

Many groups in Africa use cicatrization (scarification) to produce permanent patterns on the skin, often starting in childhood and adding new designs throughout adult life. Scars may be produced by medical treatment, when medicinal substances are scratched or incised into the skin. They may also be purely decorative. Although some facial scars are thought to ward off disease or evil eye, they may also be markers of social status, personal traits, political rank, or religious and ritual authority. Among the Yoruba of Nigeria, body incising is a respected specialty, and practitioners owe allegiance to Ogun, the god of iron.

The Nuba, a tribal group in Sudan, idealise scarification, dark skin and hairlessness. Scarification is considered a mark of beauty on women, and her first set of scars are cut from the naval to the breasts when her breasts first start to mature. On menses, more scars are cut on her body, and after weaning her child, a final set on her back, neck, arms, and legs. The raised scars are connected with sexual desire, and are said to create erotic sensations when touched.
I am considering the possibilities of combining this mark of beauty in combination with thermochromatic colour. it may be interesting to attempt to heighten this element of sexual attraction, like applying red lipstick to lips. According to anthropologists, the lips remind us of the labia, because they flush red and swell when they are aroused, which is the conscious or subconscious reason women have always made them look even redder with lipstick. with this in mind it is possible to interpret scarification as a vehicle for the investigation of what is becoming a debate about beauty ideals.

Am I trying to make the face and body more beautiful? I want them to be different, I want to reinvent perceptions of what is possible, what is beautiful. Surgery is used so casually to do this, my interpretation desires to invent without being invasive.

This touches on Orlan's philosophy of 'Carnal Art', Carnal Art is a self-portrait in the classical sense, yet realized through the technology of its time. Lying between disfiguration and figuration, it is an inscription in flesh, as our age now makes possible. No longer seen as the ideal it once represented, the body has become an 'modified ready-made'. Carnal Art loves the baroque and parody; the grotesque, and other such styles that have been left behind, because Carnal Art opposes the social pressures that are exerted upon both the human body and the corpus of art. Carnal Art is anti-formalist and anti-conformist.

Orlan was the first artist using surgery and plastic surgery to divert it from its habits of embellishment and rejuvenating and has put into question the actual state of the body and the possibility of genetic manipulations. Her body has become the product of a public debate both online and off. During the seventh surgery in New York, Orlan asked the surgeon to put on her temples implants which are normally used to make the cheekbones more prominent, and so, Orlan is now wearing two bumps on the temples.

Carnal Art is not against cosmetic surgery but, rather against the conventions carried by it and their subsequent inscription, within female flesh in particular, but also male. Carnal Art is feminist, that is necessary. It is interested not only in cosmetic surgery, but also advanced techniques in medicine and biology that question the status of the body and the ethical questions posed by them.

Orlan and the Work of Art in the Age of Hyper-mechanical Organic Reproduction by Kubilay Akman

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