Body art: scarification

12 11 2008

In the U.S., scarification emerged in San Francisco as part of a new body-modification movement in the mid-1980’s. “It was originally embraced by gay and lesbian subcultures”, said Victoria Pitts, a sociology professor at the CIty New York University.

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Over the last eight years, Pitts said, “scarification has become remarkably widespread in the U.S., Australia and across Europe, from London to Prague”. Scarification is done either by cutting repeatedly with a scalpel, using a cauterizing tool, or by ’strike branding,’ which is much like cattle branding. After cleaning the area and stenciling on the design, the artist begins cutting or burning the skin until reaching the right depth and width. “It can take 15 minutes, but I’ve also done pieces that took eight hours over two days.” said Ryan Ouellette, a body-modification artist.

There are several reasons for the growing popularity of scarification. Pitts feels that it’s partly owed  to a nostalgia for a different type of society.

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“Industrial consumerist cultures are becoming more interested in what they might call primitive societies.” she said. “That’s not wholly new.The romantic idea of the exotic ethnies dates back to colonial times”, she said. “Someone stuck in L.A. traffic, wearing a tribal tattoo, has a cultural nostalgia for something we imagine we’ve lost.” Pitts said. “The problem is that we’re taking it upon ourselves to represent a whole range of indigenous cultures in ways that they may not agree with — or may violate sacred spiritual ritual.” Some scarify merely to be different. “Tattooing has become old hat.” Hemingson said. “If you want to be on the cutting edge — and want to set yourself apart — you can do tongue splitting or scarification.” Pitts argues that body modification is not really so strange within a culture where identity is often expressed through appearance — which in mainstream society includes fashion consumption, cosmetic surgery, and botox.

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