Picks and Pans Review: Decorated Man: the Human Body as Art

updated 07/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/07/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by André Virel

Men and women around the globe paint their bodies, stick bones through their noses or have silicone stuffed into their chests to improve things. Then they look around to see how they compare. This book—with 212 striking color photographs of folks gussying up around the world—is captivating. The text by Virel, a French psychologist, is, however, obscure. Writing about self-decoration in religious rites, he says: "A hollow mold beckoning to be filled, possessed or acted upon by the three-dimensionality of another person—such is the hysteric, and such is the energumen, whose hollow personality is filled and activated by the spellbinding myth of a collective devil." Comment cela? The photographs by a French couple, Charles and Josette Lenars, are divided into four categories: decorations used for seduction, threat, caste identification and ritual. There are almost no pictures from industrialized cultures, which seems patronizing. The Lobis of Upper Volta who paint themselves as skeletons appear bizarre to Westerners, but showing them next to, say, the zanies at any disco would provide a nice object lesson in avoiding cultural chauvinism. (Abrams, $25)

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