Hipsters and cool kids with gauges and inked skin have taken to the art of body modification. Now, the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University is putting the cultural tradition and its history on display in an exhibit that is among the first of its kind: “Pierce, Mark, Morph.”
Piercing, tattoos and other body art has been around for thousands of years with some origins dated to the Pre-Columbian era. The Frost presentation juxtaposes older and newer paintings, sculptures and multimedia pieces to “reflect and convey ideas related to justice, identity, environment, and gender.”
Artists include Lauren Kalman, Carlos Martiel, Hiromi Moneyhun, Tatiana Parcero and Cecilia Paredes, who all explore ideas related to ancient customs, either with their bodies or reflected in their art. An exhibit highlight features conceptual artist Kalman, using her body as a focal point. She adorns it in a grotesque way with precious gems and gold to appear like blackheads and skin blemishes, drawing attention to the extremes people go to for beauty. Another is Moneyhun’s use of a precison knife and thick reams of paper to carve out detailed portraits of tribal women with extreme body alterations.
In a hair-raising display, a video of Cuban artist Carlos Martiel projects in the gallery as he lays naked, headphones in place, in a state of deep meditation as he is pierced and threaded. At its perimeter are photos documenting the excruciating process. Other projects include photographs and artworks of previous performances.
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Maryanna Ramirez, the curator of the exhibition, said she wanted to bring to Miami — a city known for its love of body modification, plastic surgery and inked skin — a historical and educational aspect to teach about the subject. The exhibit opened Oct. 22 and saw an attendance of over 100 people across generations admiring the all-encompassing topic. It runs through Feb. 12.
Ramirez said many of the artists dig deep into emotional and spiritual viewpoints to create their pieces.
“Carlos Martiel’s work took him hours to be pierced and threaded. He was trying to replicate Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, which is considered the ideal image of a man. But what Carlos is doing is conveying the idea that society’s ideal is a Caucasian man. He is a black Cuban man but in his performance he is speaking to the ideals, of can he be considered the ideal man, or is there an ideal mean outside of this version?” Ramirez said. “I think you can also look at this particular image and it deals with a lot of race issues we’re dealing with here in America.”
Education of body modification is also a large focus of the exhibit. Ramirez said it could be interpreted in different ways. Viewers enter the space with preconceived knowledge whether they have piercings and tattoos or not. They leave with contemporary artistic perspectives by artists who alter their figures to convey bigger ideals through the human body.
Peruvian artist Cecilia Paredes features autobiographical paintings, in which she inserts herself into paintings using her body as a canvas and camouflaging herself into her surroundings. The artist wanted to highlight the plight of the immigrant becoming part of a new country or landscape using her body to tell her story
“I had to move to Philadelphia in 2005, and the change was substantial. Learning a new language, a different time zone, cultural customs, eating different food, absolutely everything and I was intrigued to learn what I had to do as an immigrant to adapt,” Paredes said. “The phrase ‘be part of the landscape’ came to me through my research and from that moment on I thought about standing in front of a landscape and painting my body blending into it. I finally felt I wasn’t something weird and distant but a part of a whole.”
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If you go
▪ What: Pierce, Mark, Morph on display until February 12, 2017
▪ Where: FIU’s Frost Museum of Art, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami
▪ Hours: Open 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays and most legal holidays. For information, visit frost.fiu.edu or call 305-348-2890.
▪ Admission: Free