August 28, 2008

Ghostface killer

We can't ask Heath Ledger about it now, of course, but surely no Australian can have missed the strange overlap between the Joker's white face and scars and the face painting and scarification traditions of the Aboriginals? Ledger must have been aware of it, and the otherworldly possibilities it lent his no-name, no-background character. This, from an Aboriginal Art website:
The art of body decoration includes scarring, face and body painting for ritual, wearing of ornaments, and the transformation of the body using added texture and headdresses to form living images of ancestral beings. Scars were made on the body for many reasons, but mainly during ceremonies to mark age, initiation or to raise a person's status. Techniques varied from place to place, but scarification (or cicatrisation)usually involved cutting the skin with a sharp shell or rock, then rubbing irritating substances like ash into the cuts so that prominent keloid scars resulted. This process created raised, pigmented patterns on the chest, back, arms or legs of the initiate. Scarification is now rarely practised.
And then ...
Body painting continues as a strong and live part of contemporary Aboriginal culture, not only in traditional ceremonies but also as part of art and practices by urban people. Stephen Page, the artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Theatre, has commented about body painting that "There are no time constraints, no boundaries; there’s an apparent timelessness about the ritual." Djakapurra Munyarryun, a leading dancer with the company, says: "We never dance without ochre on ... because that’s what we have been doing for a long time, like a thousand years. Body paint for us is really important for our culture, for sharing with other people too. Some people don’t recognise me when I do painting, when I am performing. They can see when I am dancing, it’s like they thought I am an old old man. Because when I am there, it’s like my soul is very strong and I watch the audience. The paint makes me more older, older looking."