Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 27 March 2011





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Wow! Having your face painted?

It’s cricket fever again all over the country with the ICC World Cup coming alive. Watching television without missing a single moment or peering through local newspapers, many hope that their picture will be published for the world to see.

Whether it’s on media or live on the pitch, it’s not just the match people watch but scores of cricket fans who have painted their faces and dressed up with the most vibrant of their country team’s colours to cheer their favourite cricketers.

Never before has Sri Lanka seen so many fans go to extremes to paint their faces, wear costumes and hang soft toys on their heads than at the ICC cricket matches displaying the latest cheerleading trends.

It’s evident to see that fans go to a cricket match to feel the atmosphere and be a part of an experience with the papare bands in the background, baila music screaming from mobile phones and witnessing the painted faces in the stands.

Face-painter artist Arshadh Iqbal told the Sunday Observer that even he didn’t realise that he’d get so many enthusiasts to get their faces painted. “It’s cool that everyone wants to get their faces painted and I can’t believe that I get lots of middle-aged people who queue,” he said. Moreover, he said that there were lots of foreigners who were so impressed with his painting that they wanted their whole bodies painted.

According to experts, face painting has been used from historical times, used for hunting, tribal, religious and military reasons such as camouflage and authority.

Recent archaeological research reveals that even Neanderthals had the ability to do some kind of face paintings. Although it died out in Western culture after the fall of the French aristocracy, face painting re-entered the popular culture during the hippie movement of the late 1960s, when it was common for young women to decorate their cheeks with flowers or peace symbols at anti-war demonstrations.

“As an artist, we have crazy and over-the-top ideas when we paint our subjects' faces so we really think out of the box when it comes to art. For the cricket matches, I got to paint plenty of the country’s flags, the ICC logo, the Sri Lanka Lion and even one of Stumpy, the mascot,” he said. Arshadh said that his most memorable time was the Pakistan-Sri Lanka match where most of his family and friends and even girls who used to be shy to get their faces painted before, started coming to him to get their team’s colours on their faces.

“I was shocked at how conservative girls were now painting their faces and getting into the spirit of things. It changed their perceptions and I was also asked to put both countries’ flag on the faces of many fans,” he said.

Arshadh realised that it wasn’t just fans cheering their favourite teams but unity in diversity and when fans painted themselves with colours of two countries, it revealed respect and admiration to both playing sides.

“I never knew that face painting would be a must-have fashion because you see friends bonding over who has the better painting and who does not. So I try to make people as beautiful as possible but in their own unique style,” he said.

“They come up to me and ask, ‘Can you please do a good design on my face otherwise I won’t appear on television’ which goes to show how serious these fans are about grabbing attention.”

Talking about the long queue at his stall to get their faces painted, he said, “The secret to this is that I tend to do my paintings in double-quick time because of the lack of time. Whether it’s between lunch breaks or tea time for the cricketers, it’s overtime for me as I have to make sure every fan who wants his/her face painted looks their best!” According to a Sri Lankan psychiatrist, although it is a fun thing with attractive symbols, face painting is also something that relate to the greater society.

She said, “While most think face painting is a crazy trend done by mad people, this is not true. We paint our faces to ‘fit in’ and to bond with others who are also part of the trend.”

The doctor said that while we cheer our favourite team, we are making a signature statement to show our comradeship and our respect to our country, something like a patriotic gesture.

We asked a few fans why they wanted their faces painted and why it was popular among everybody in any age-group and how it’s very popular.

Chinthana (30) said, “I think it’s good that many people realise that it’s not just about cheering your team but feeling the total experience when it comes to going to a cricket match.

In Sri Lanka, people are now becoming not just fashionable and attractive but also very innovative when it comes to facial art.”

Work executive Dinesh said, “As a cricket fan, instead of holding placards of ‘4s’ and ‘6s’ all the time, it’s relaxing to sit there and have a face painting to express your solidarity to your team and to the game. For me, face painting can be difficult because you have to keep it for the entire duration of the match but it serves a good purpose.”

Damayanthi (23) said, “Older people wouldn’t have had such fads when they were growing up so they paint their faces to make them look and feel younger. Of course, I’m not sure if it’s a way of hiding their wrinkles!” Harshini (16) said, “I love the ICC World Cup mascot Stumpy this time because he’s so adorable, I even have him on my mobile phone wallpaper.”

Brainstormed by Christoph Kaul, Stumpy is a light-blue elephant, showing that the elephant is a tribute to the ICC’s host nations, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. We can all see him when the umpires toss a coin to see which team gets to decide who bats or bowls first.

According to Christoph, “Stumpy evolved in five stages. He is intelligent, efficient and lovable, a combination that took considerable time to mastermind. Even his trunk is different from a traditional elephant’s trunk and is modelled on the Indian elephant God, Ganesh.” With his appearance in Sri Lanka, Stumpy needs a helping hand because he’s not very popular here. So the next time you see him, please give him a great elephant hug!



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