Self-harm has been a controversial topic for a long time. It is associated with certain mental illnesses’ and is, for the most part, frowned upon in society. The mindset that an individual must possess to engage in self-harm is one that we as a society try to change and help through counseling and in some cases, medication.
Many consider self-incisions or self-harm as wrong but it takes a different perspective to find the beauty in gruesome situations. A new form of body art has come under question as to the ethics of the practice. This new form of tattooing, called scarification, has become more popular among extreme tattoo fanatics. According to Wikipedia, scarification “involves scratching, etching, burning / branding, or superficially cutting designs, pictures, or words into the skin as a permanent body modification.” Essentially, this practice is using self-harm to create works of art on human canvases.
But where did this practice start? In Papua New Guinea, the people of the Sepik region have a ritual for young boys moving into adulthood. This process involves boys as young at 11 years old undergoing a 6-week journey where they get cut in patterns that make their skin look like crocodiles. The scars heal and leave patterns that pay tribute to the crocodiles because of their belief that humans evolved from these powerful creatures. The pain that the boys endure is excruciating and can often end in death. The incisions are deep to ensure the scars heal so that they protrude and make their skin more textured. This practice has been replicated in western cultures but for different purposes and with a lot wider variety of styles. The beauty is only revealed once the scar heals over and leaves a permanent design on the skin.
Similar to ink tattoos, these works of art can take any shape that the artist/canvas wishes. The extreme tattooists who partake in this certain style of art endure much pain to get the desired result. This melding of indigenous culture and western culture takes sacrifice and tolerance to receive the results intended. This being said, why is not all self-harm a type of art? People who use self-harm as a way of stress relief or to alleviate depression are using the same tools and methods as partakers in scarification, yet one is socially frowned upon and the other is not seen as quite as bad. This sparks the question, can self-harm be considered an art form? Do people who partake in self harm feel the same high an artist gets when he/she is in flow for a specific piece of artwork? There is a sort of beauty that is brought about by pain and takes a certain appreciation to see it. This type of art challenges the social norms of art.