As mentioned in earlier posts, the experiments including the carving from a tree, were to demonstrate a symbolic taking of the trees life-force – it’s immortality i.e. by taking the bark – the tree’s protection, the tree became vulnerable.
Furthermore, it also occurred to me, that the reason why I was not just merely taking a random piece of bark from the tree but rather, carving out a downward pointing triangle, referencing the Yoni sacred feminine symbol, that by doing so, I was branding or stigmatizing the tree.
The tradition of human branding dates back to ancient Egypt and Rome, relating to ownership of slaves and livestock. Interestingly, in ancient Greece, slaves were branded with “a Delta for doulos or slave” (DeMello, p45, 2007) which is the shape of the triangle: Δ
I feel that the delta triangle used as a sign of slavery or ownership is a fortunate coincidence with regard to my own work and although the upward and downward pointing triangle have different meanings, the idea of branding and ownership are extremely relevant in my concept.
As mentioned above and in previous posts, by removing the bark from the tree, I was taking something that was not mine to take, but by doing so, it could be said that I was taking ownership of the tree’s life.
Furthermore, branding in Europe “was used to mark criminals, combining physical punishment, as burns are very painful, with public humiliation (which is greatest if marked on a visible part of the body), and the permanent marking of criminal status” (DeMello, p45, 2007).
In my earlier post, I had highlighted the idea of the “retribution of Eve” – the taking back of immortality that was lost through the Original Sin. In this respect, there is a sense of visible punishment inflicted upon the tree and the “wound” which was left on the tree, did indeed look fairly brutal:
This also brings to mind the ritual of scarification, where the skin is cut or branded with a hot iron to produce raised scars:
Scarification has been widely used by many West African tribes to mark milestone stages in both men and women’s lives, such as puberty and marriage. It is also used to transmit complex messages about identity, such as social, political, and religious roles (Boundless Learning, 2013, online).
In West Africa, scarification is also used to make a women more appealing to men:
Facial scarification in West Africa is used for identification of ethnic groups, families, individuals, but also to express personal beauty. It is also performed on girls to mark stages of the life process, such as puberty, marriage etc. They can assist in making them more attractive to men, as the scars are regarded as appealing to touch as well as to look at, but also as testimony that women will be able to withstand the pain of childbirth (Coleman, 2002, online).
Again, there is this idea of a woman having to make herself “more attractive” which could link to the idea of women having to undergo some kind of suffering to be accepted – which in turn could link to the story of Eve in the garden of Eden and subsequently, the perception of women over the centuries right through to the present day.
These “stages” or rites of passage, remind me of my initial research of Mircea Eliade’s book Rites and Symbols of Initiation, which discusses the initiation rituals of primitive religions.
However, scarification has also become popular in some Western societies – not only as a body adornment but, as with with indigenous tribal rituals, members of groups – such as gangs and fraternities use scarification in initiations to demonstrate they’re part of a particular group. This again brings to mind my earlier research with regard to the lack of rituals in the West:
Underlying the surface structures of schools, fraternities, sororities, maternity groups, military organizations, street gangs, rap bands, crack houses, meditation centers, and prisons lie the bones and sinews of initiatory rites and symbols (Eliade, p9, 2012).
To summarize, the idea of branding and scarification not only relates to my research and proposal of experimenting with ritual and ceremony in performance art, but also to ownership and modification. Indeed, the ritual of scarification could perhaps be likened to today’s obsession with beauty and the extremes people will go to, just to be accepted within society – submitting under pressure to be part of the gang!
Boundless Learning (2013) The Rite of Passage [online] Boston: Boundless Learning Inc. Available from: https://www.boundless.com/art-history/africa-in-the-modern-period/traditional-and-contemporary-african-culture-a-comparison/the-rite-of-passage/ (accessed on 02/12/2013)
Coleman, M. (2002) Scarification [online] Durham: Artworld: WorldArt. Available from: http://artworld.uea.ac.uk/home/introduction (accessed on 02/12/2013)
DeMello, M. (2007) Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. USA: Greenwood Press
Eliade, M. (2012: Revised Printing) Rites & Symbols of Initiation – The Mysteries of Birth & Rebirth. New York: Spring Publications, Inc.
Lane-Miller, C. (2010) Faces of Africa: Photo Gallery. Washinton, DC: National Geographic Society. Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2004/10/photogalleries/africa_faces/photo4.html (accessed on 02/12/2013)