Beyond Beauty

Scarifications as testaments of life and death

Project team

Scarifications can be defined as permanent modifications of the body that inscribe on the skin indelible marks, symbols, or designs. From the perspective of Quint (1958), scarifications are an important stylistic element, and an essential aspect of beauty. This overgeneralized conception of scarification as beautiful is simplistic and overshadows other essential properties and transactions that inform individuals and communities' relation to the past and to the present, to the living and to the dead, to the visible and to the invisible, and to the power and the agency of women within traditional African societies. Conceiving of scarifications as testaments of life and of death is what motivates the study of Congolese objects in order to inform cataloging principles of female objects from which can be derived an archeology of power, of memory, of identity, and of agency that prevailed in pre/colonial communities in Congo.  This project aims at proposing new approaches to Congolese past and heritage through an attention to the politics and symbolisms of scarifications and how they inform a typical and authentic African feminist history and worldviews.

CDH Grant History

  • 2023–2024 Data Fellowship