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The myths of modern primitivism

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RE/Search Publications’ Modern Primitives (Vale and Juno 1989) changed countless lives, bringing what had been a localized and niche set of body modification practices, aesthetics and philosophies out of San Francisco to a global audience, dominating scholarly and popular discourse around body modification subculture for more than a decade afterwards. The voice of Fakir Musafar dominates the book. This article argues that modern primitives as Musafar defines them never really existed (and never could have existed) in the terms he suggests, and goes on to address an important sub-strand within Modern Primitives almost entirely ignored by critics and commentators, who have read the book as generally representative of the body modification culture as a whole. With specific reference to contributors such as infamous tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy who do not frame their practice in ‘primitive’ terms, the article concludes with a study of an alternative account presented by Vale and Juno’s book: body modification as artistic practice.
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Keywords: Don Ed Hardy; Fakir Musafar; body art; body modification; modern primitives; tattoos

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Reading

Publication date: 30 August 2011

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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