If you have any sort of body piercing or tattoo – or are simply fascinated by just how far you can take the human body – then you probably owe a debt of thanks to Fakir Musafar, who died today. The founding father of the ‘modern primitive’ movement, Musafar paved the way for body art as we know it today, dragging tattooing out of the world of sailors, circus folk and criminals, and into the counter-culture, and showing that you could pierce more than just your ears. Along the way, he explored the most extreme sorts of body art, and became the premier ambassador for a growing movement that burst into the mainstream in the late 1980s.
Born Roland Loomis, he grew up on an India reservation, and although not a Native American himself, are fascinated with their rapidly dying traditions – a true cultural appropriator, in fact, and thank God for it. Exploring indigenous rituals and body art, he first piercing himself aged 14, in 1944 – unable to experiment on a part of his body that might be seen by others, he naturally did the piercing on his genitalia. By 1967, he was performing the first of many suspension rituals, with hooks forced through his chest or back. A decade later, he had transformed into Fakir Musafar, and his appearance at the 1977 International Tattoo Convention has extreme piercing performances that showed that the human body could be pushed to levels far beyond conventional imagination.
As the first, and for a time only practitioner of such extreme piercing and body modification, Musafar became the spokesman for the scene, appearing in books like Re/Search’s Modern Primitives and films like Dances Sacred and Profane. He was the go-to figure for journalists exploring hardcore body art, a regular sight on the performance art scene (Musafar never denied the spiritual, the sexual and the theatrical aspects of his activities) and was a publisher, photographer and writer about body art. And while he may have had some regrets over the way the movement spread and was misused by some, he remained an advocate of body modification and the exploration of pain and physical transformation throughout his life.
Sadly, he finally fell victim to one of nature’s own body transformations – lung cancer. He died on August 1st 2018.