A university don has stated that the colonialism dealt a crippling blow on traditional body design practices, such that these design traditions have sadly been caught up in the prevailing cultural self-effacement, which has also been the lot of other forms of African cultural heritage, arguing that with the denigration and decline of African body design practices, there had been an initial attempt to find fulfilment in the adoption of Western body design forms.

Tracie Chima Utoh-Ezeajugh, a professor of Theatre and Film Design in the Department of Theatre Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria, made the assertion in Cape Town, South Africa, in a paper, titled, “Body Designs in Contemporary Practice: Transmutation, Adaptation or Adoption of African Cultural Idioms?”

Professor Utoh-Ezeajugh stated that the human body is fundamental to art and that may account for the preponderance of body designs in Africa, adding that body designs in varied forms abound in the artistic repertoire of the traditional society, so much so that for the African, beauty lies in the decorated skin.

She said that a new craving for body designs in varied forms and styles have, in recent times, gradually crept into the artistic consciousness of contemporary African societies, and that body designs have re-emerged as icons to enhance appearances and create different impressions, and these are now being exhibited with pride and self-fulfilment.

Professor Utoh-Ezeajugh  maintained that the socially-scorned practices of painting, piercing or altering of one’s body, have become fashion favourites, both in the West and even among the new generation of Africans, who grew up scorning those same practices, and with the resurgence of body designing culture, one would expect originality and innovation, but the reality is a sweeping trend of cultural mix and match, drawing on body designing forms originally used in Africa and other non-western cultures for purposes of aesthetics, religion, and/or identity.


The presentation was part of the plenary sessions at the recently concluded African Theatre Association (AfTA) Annual International Conference, which took place at the Hiddingh Campus of the University of Cape Town, from July 12-15, 2012.



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