International Face and Body Art Day is celebrated annually on February 1. It honors face and body artists and exceptional artworks from around the world.
The holiday pays respect to the art of body painting, tattoos, piercings, performance art, and scarification. It also spreads awareness that face and body art centers around the issues of gender and personal identity and, sometimes, the relationship between the body and mind.
History of International Face and Body Art Day
Humans have been tattooing themselves since ancient times — before the advent of tattooing technology. The earliest evidence of tattooing was discovered on the body of Otzi, the Iceman found in the Alps, which scientists carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old. Tattoos were also found on the body of Egyptian mummies, which revealed that tattooing had been practiced in ancient Egypt as far back as between 3351 and 3017 B.C. Unlike other cultures during antiquity, the ancient Greeks and Romans had a peculiar use for tattoos. Greek and Roman records from at least the fifth century B.C. revealed that they used tattoos to mark enslaved people, criminals, and prisoners of war. However, that changed during late antiquity, when Romans began tattooing soldiers and arms manufacturers.
In the 17th century, European Christians on pilgrimage to the Holy Land were tattooed with the Jerusalem Cross to commemorate their voyages. The introduction of tattooing to Britain is attributed to Captain James Cook and his men. During the 18th century, Cook made several trips to the South Pacific, where he and his sailors were exposed to the tattooing culture of the indigenous people. Cook introduced the Tahitian word ‘tatau,’ which became “tattoo.” Returning from one of their expeditions, Cook’s sailors and seamen sported tattoos, including Sir Joseph Banks — a well-known English aristocrat. These tattoos gave birth to a practice that soon became a tradition among European seamen and across the world.
In the 19th century, Martin Hildebrandt, a German immigrant, became the first documented professional tattooer in the United States. During the American Civil War, he tattooed soldiers on both sides of the war. Later, in 1891, Samuel O’Reilly, a New York City tattooer, patented the first electric tattoo machine. O’Reilly derived his inspiration from Edison’s electric pen, which he modified. Since the invention of this machine, tattooing has grown in prominence, from being a form of resistance to a part of expressionism. However, tattooing took off among young Americans between the 1970s and the early 21st century, becoming a mainstream part of global and Western fashion. This growth in tattoo popularity has led to the influx of new artists into the industry, many of whom have received formal art education.
International Face and Body Art Day timeline
Otzi becomes the oldest known person with tattoos on their body.
Captain Cook and his sailors introduce tattooing to England.
New York City tattooer, Samuel O’Reilly, obtains a patent for his electric tattoo machine.
Tattooing gains global popularity and becomes part of Western and international fashion.
International Face and Body Art Day FAQs
Which cultures used body art?
All cultures around the world use body art. It is popular among the indigenous people of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Pacific Islands, etc.
What is face and body art?
Face and body art uses the human body as a medium. Popular face and body art include tattoos, face and body painting, and performance art.
What is the purpose of body art?
Body art is a form of human expression. People employ it to communicate their individuality or identify themselves as members of an organization, a community, or a social or cultural group.
International Face and Body Art Day Activities
Get a tattoo or body painting
If you are a fan of tattoos, you can use International Face and Body Art Day to get that tattoo you have been dying to get. Check online for tattoo ideas based on the image or symbol you’re interested in, and book an appointment with a tattooist. If you don’t want something permanent, you can get a face or body painting to celebrate your culture or identify yourself as a member of a particular group.
Honor exceptional artists on social media
If you have a specific artist whose works you particularly like, you can honor them by showcasing their works on social media and speaking highly of them. Even a short appreciative sentence could make their day!
Attend a body art fair
Many body art events happen worldwide to celebrate body artists and their unique pieces, such as the Body Art Expo in Los Angeles, the Australian Body Art Festival, the Atlantic City Tattoo Expo, and the Brighton Tattoo Convention. Check online for when one of these body art fairs will happen and prepare to attend.
5 Unique Facts About Tattooing
Tattooing is illegal in some countries
Iran, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates are the three countries where tattooing is illegal.
Women get more tattoos than men
According to a survey, 59% of people with tattoos in the United States are women.
Miami is the center of tattooing
Miami has the most tattoo shops in the United States, with 24 shops for 100,000 people.
The tattooed man
According to the Guinness World Record, Lucky Diamond Rich is the world’s most tattooed man, with 100% of his body tattooed.
The love of angels and hearts
The most popular tattoo motifs are angels and hearts.
Why We Love International Face and Body Art Day
Every culture has its unique face and body art
From the Americas to Europe to Africa, each culture has its distinct face and body art. In some countries, body art is employed to mark a rite of passage, initiation, or imply fraternity. In contrast, in others, it serves as a symbol of protection from evil eyes and spirits, brings fertility, heals the body, or grants magical powers.
Body art is a way to address societal issues
For centuries, people have been using body art to discuss gender equality, climate change, anti-war sentiments, and gender mutilation. Artists like Dennis Oppenheim, Carolee Schneemann, Zhang Huan, and Matthew Barney employed this art form.
Body art is a representation of personal identity and ideas
Body art is used in performance art to communicate one’s beliefs and test the limit of the human body. Artists like Marina Abramović and Chris Burden are known for their extreme performance art forms. People can also express their culture, religion, passion, and desires through body art such as tattoos.
International Face and Body Art Day dates