ArtsATL > Art+Design > “Their bodies are canvases”: The extraordinary art of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley

“Their bodies are canvases”: The extraordinary art of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley

If you haven’t yet seen this YouTube video — it seems to have gone viral — click now for a transcendent aesthetic experience.

The Surma and Mursi tribes, makers and canvases for this fabulous human-body art, dwell in the Omo Valley, a remote region of southwestern Ethiopia, which is nevertheless becoming a tourist destination. Luckily, German photographer Hans Silvester took these photos before “civilization” intrudes.

Roberta Smith wrote last year in The New York Times:

They paint themselves or one another two or three times a day, using pigment made from earth or ground stone mixed with water. Executed quickly, the abstract, vibrantly patterned motifs reflect a sophisticated vocabulary of mark-making, finger-painting and hand-printing techniques; they extend across faces and sometimes center on a single feature, like a breast. They function as personal decoration, cultural expression and, when ash and cattle urine are added, insect repellent.

Silvester has published two books on the subject. His photos are on display in Brussels’ Royal Museum of Central Africa through Aug. 31.

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