Ethiopian tribes use their bodies as living canvases.
German photographer Hans Silvester spent over 5 years documenting the cultural diversity of the Omo Valley tribes of Southern Ethiopia. He’s compiled these breathtaking photos in a hardcover collection, and you’ll see some of his magical moments in the video above. It’s worth watching to the end.
The Omo people decorate their faces and bodies with their fingers, nails, or crushed reeds, and transform themselves into stunning works of art. They execute their vibrant abstractions quickly—painting themselves or each other two or three times a day. The rich geology of the region provides pigments of red ocher, green copper, yellow sulfer, and gray ash. The tribesmen also incorporate into their most personal masterpieces — nature’s finest accoutrements: wispy feathers, brightly-colored flower petals, and rough-hewn twigs and leaves.
In describing his mission, Silvester says “what’s most important for me is saving… as much as possible of this truly living art, which is mobile, changing, subject to infinite variation, and whose elements form a link between man and nature. It seems to me that our modern painting found the purpose of these elements, this simplicity, and used it as its foundation.“
For me, the resemblance between the raw tribal art above and today’s most successful museum or gallery-shown art – is chilling. (Pics # 1,# 2, #3, #4) Worlds away, these inspired naturalists create their visual statements with no connection to Western culture. Most likely, they have never seen a Picasso, Goldsworthy or Miro. But their masterpieces are authentic, original, and frankly, way too hip for the room.
Hans Silvester’s extraordinary work can also be seen in The Mediterranean Cat, Cats in the Sun, and The Land of the Incas. A New York Times review of his work, The Painted People may be seen here.