Using the skin for artistic expression dates back to at least the Neolithic times. Otzi the Iceman is the proud owner of the oldest known tattoo, estimated to have lived somewhere between 3370 and 3100 BC. Skin art has been observed throughout history and across cultures. Tattoo’s have been cultural signifiers, demonstrations of status and strength, and surrounded by ritual and ceremony. They are stories of important moments in our lives, our passions, our regrets, and everything in between that we want to permanently express.
Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past. ~Jack London
Skin art isn’t always permanent, however. The tradition of henna dates back to Bronze Age, with multiple points of discovery across several regions. Henna is a small shrub that produces leaves that will stain the skin. These leaves are collected, dried, and then mashed with a variety of liquids (depending on the tradition) and turned into a paste which was then applied to the skin. Women were the traditional users of henna and would decorate their skin for weddings and other festival occasions.
Even face/body painting is steeped in history, dating back to ancient times. Evidence suggests that Neanderthals had the capacity and tools for body art and this tradition has been used for hunting, religious, and military purposes.
Using skin as a canvas is a part of the human condition imbuing our lives with expression.
This past July, thousands gathered at the Colorado Convention Center to participate in Tattoo Masquerade and use the skin as a canvas. Representations of all three of these traditions could be enjoyed as tattoo artists, henna artists, and face/body painters laid color down on dermis. Hundreds traveled to Tattoo Masquerade with the intention of getting skin art while others enjoyed the spontaneous nature of self-expression.