Monday, July 11, 2011

The Body Painting of the Surma Peoples

By Charles Kessler

I’m grateful to my California friend Ken Garber for making me aware of the photo-documentary book  Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa by Hans Silvester on the extraordinary and sophisticated body painting of the Surma Peoples. Silvester exhibited this work at the Marlborough Gallery in 2008, and the show was reviewed by Roberta Smith.

Hans Silvester, Natural Fashion,  no.10, 2007, C-print, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2 inches, Edition of 10
Surma is the Ethiopian government's collective name for the Suri, the Mursi and the Me'en tribes — a total population of 186,875 people of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. They’re probably most known for the strange practice of piercing and inserting lip and ear plates.

Don't be fooled into some Gauguin-like romantic notion about peace and love flower children. These are a violent people — the Surma have always been involved in tribal and guerilla warfare, and now the area is a  hotbed of the arms and ivory trades. But they, particularly the adolescents, do take joy in decorating themselves and others, sometimes two or three times a day.
Hans Silvester, Natural Fashion,  no.15, 2007, C-print, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2 inches, Edition of 10
Hans Silvester, Natural Fashion,  no.113, 2007, C-print, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2 inches, Edition of 10
Some of the best photos can be found here, and there are a few YouTube videos available, but I found them annoying because they move through the images too fast, and there are a lot of distractions. Here’s one of the better ones:


Kyle Gallup said...

Very beautiful!Amazing post of images. Thanks Charles.

Packers movers Mumbai said...

very very beautiful..just dnt finding words to appraise these pics...

Packers movers Pune