1 Part / Body painting among the peoples of Africa

The art of body painting (or body painting) is one of the earliest forms of artistic expression used by our ancestors.

It would go back to the dawn of humanity, and would have passed, the discovery of colored earth, charcoal, chalk, colored berry juice, blood and other pigments.

Photo taken in the movie « La Guerre du feu » 1981

Its use by our ancestors was undoubtedly as a war paint to impress adversaries, rival clans, or as a sign of identity within the tribe, or even as camouflage for hunting.


Almost all tribal societies have practiced body painting using clay or charcoal.

This ancestral art on the body, was used and / where is used (still) for certain tribes of Africa:

  • to highlight the functions of chief, sorcerer.
  • during initiation rites
  • to protect from evil spirits
  • to confer powers of revered deities
  • during religious, festive or identity ritual ceremonies.
  • to define belonging to a community or a ritual position.
  • to identify the wearer with a socio-cultural group.
Mix photos (google)
  • associated with dance, it becomes the means of communicating with the sacred and extremely codified ancestors.
  • During wedding ceremonies
  • to govern the age groups
  • But also for seduction

The symbolism of colors and patterns

The pigments used are natural, and can be of mineral, animal or plant origin.

The universally most important colors are red (or brown), black, white and ocher. Here are some examples of materials used for the different colors :

For red, throughout Africa, padauk roots give a beautiful bright red which is frequently used for traditional ceremonies, but also the blood of animals.

The white (rare and therefore highly potent) obtained with clay is
him associated with purification and mourning, death or the spirits.

As an example also for the color white, Kaolin which was particularly used before, and which it is still today, in body paints in Ivory Coast. It symbolizes both joy, peace and mourning ….

Ocher is associated with blood and symbolizes vital force and fertility.

Black is essentially associated with primordial chaos and at night, it symbolizes nothingness.

Patterns can be geometric, represented the shapes of nature, they can be spectacularly colorful and elaborate, with graphics as varied as they are complex. This either enhances their ritual power, or just perfectly fulfills the function these tribes confer upon them.

The art of body painting then becomes a means of communication that passes through artistic creation and the common imagination of all mankind since the dawn of time …


In 2016 in Libreville in Gabon, the painter, artist and designer Fabienne Greco, is at the origin of a new trend for the country, which is body painting.

Brought up to date, with a mix of modernity, seductions, and a choice of patterns reminiscent of African traditions and cultures, this cultural rediscovery has had a positive impact on the Gabonese who are thus reconnecting with their traditions and cultures.

Gabonese article on Fabienne Greco :



But also in Benin, where new artists are evolving in the world of body painting and face painting.

comme Nel Tachart, qui utilise cette art pour :

« Make my art visible which aroused my enthusiasm for the thing. On a painting for example, I can quite convey emotions or a message. But a painting cannot move on its own, since it is material. is good to be exhibited and counted. On the other hand, body painting is alive. I can then promote my work in a completely different way. « 


And of course, the Beninese Lionel Attere who masters this art to perfection, by going to find the origin of body painting, by learning the different African cultures, through its patterns, colors, codes, and by bringing his creativity and his limitless imagination.

This artist amazes us (for sure), by the grace of his paintings, the beauty of the shapes and the colors he uses !!! Which makes them sublime photographs.

Photos taken on https://afropreneuriat.net/index.php/body-painting-un-art-que-le-beninois-lionel-attere-maitrise-a-la-perfection/decouverte/

But also … by sending messages

For more visual discoveries :

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/lionelattere/

Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/lionelattereartist/

We can’t end this article without talking about the international Nigerian artist Loalu Senbanjo who showcased his magnificent body and facial paintings in Beyonce’s music video « Lemonade ».

What has since launched his career even more. A beautiful and elegant discovery ….

For more pictures : https://instagram.com/laolunyc?igshid=1rl2ec790wusr


Small quiz to do : https://savoirs.rfi.fr/fr/apprendre-enseigner/societe/le-body-painting-en-afrique/1

And an interview with Sarah Kodjo who tells us « Painting your body is more and more popular in Africa. »


In a future issue, we will discover the last African tribes who still practice the art of body painting in their traditions.

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