Many people in various cultures have used permanent markings on the body as means of identification–individual, familial, tribal, broadly cultural. Any of these can be ornamental, and thus fall into the “art” category, but they are often more than ornamental–they have specific meanings. Temporary markings applied to the skin with colors, mud, ash are even commoner, but ephemeral; the point of this post is the permanent ones in use in Paksworld, and their meanings to the Paksworld cultures that use them (or who abhor them.) Tattoos, scarification, and piercings all occur in Paksworld, with very specific meanings both inside and outside the groups that use them.
The existing Paks books have mentioned only two uses: the Liartians (followers of Liart, also known as the Bloodlord) carry at least one tattoo of the “horned chain” or “horned circle,” a circle or circle made to look like a chain, with barbs on it. The location of the tattoo denotes the rank of the follower. It is placed on the shoulder (front or back) of those first marked as follower, with additional tattoos as the person rises in importance. Servants marked by their masters may have other tattoos in a code (readable to Liartians) that defines their relationship. Aside from servant tattoos marking someone as a sexual target, to carry the horned chain below the waist means that someone is of higher rank in the organization, and the original tattoo (more visible in company) has been obliterated. The equivalent to “enforcers” in the Liartian organization have their faces heavily tattooed (as was mentioned in the first Paks book, of Siniava and some of his followers.)
The legend surrounding the use of full-face tattoos is that it began with humans who had been corrupted by iynisin and who wanted to blot out their humanity and become dark like them. The problem with that is that the iynisin are not dark-skinned; in “normal” clothes they are indistinguishable from elves, whose skin colors range from pale to yellowish to a light brown. Some are pinker and some are yellower and some are browner, but never as dark as dark-skinned humans. So why did some humans, early on, start using full-face tattoos? Unsure. (Range of human skin colors in Paksworld is from very dark brown to tannable “white.” No albinos. Nobody as pale as the Finnvardians in the Familias universe. The mix of hair and eye color with skin color is somewhat different than it is here. )
However, most horse nomad tribes use facial tattooing, but not full-face: half-face is the most; some tribes tattoo only the forehead and a smaller mark on one cheek. as a tribal recognition and (in the case of notable persons) a record of their achievements. They also have spiritual significance in most tribes. In Divided Allegiance, when on the trek to Kolobia, the expedition meets the Stormwind tribe and Paks sees tattooed faces not allied with Liart for the first time.
In Fintha and Tsaia, facial tattoo are very much disapproved of, but less so if the person is obviously a horse nomad. The horse nomads look different anyway–generally shorter, barrel-chested, bow-legged, straight black hair worn long, in braids (and men may braid their beards, which are usually scant and confined to the chin) , darker skinned than most Tsaians, Finthans, and Pargunese. Horse nomads are disapproved of for other reasons as well, but nobody thinks they’re Liartians. Some people even copy the designs of horse nomad tattoos and draw them on themselves with dyes as temporary marks. The Horse nomads are disgusted by that practice because the user doesn’t know what the meaning is, and thus it’s inappropriate.
Piercings, except for ear piercings (which both men and women may have) are again associated in the average person’s mind with Liart–with torture. Multiple ear piercings no longer exist in Fintha, but were common among magelords, and are associated with wealth in Tsaia. Males in Pargun may have one pierced ear, but not two; for women, ear piercings are a sumptuary matter, defining rank: the maximum for any woman is three in each ear (a king’s wife, if he agrees); two in each ear is for royalty other than ruling, and only after marriage; and so on down the scale, though any wife may have one piercing in one ear.
In Aarenis, both men and women may have pierced ears, though some realms limit the number (Andressat, for instance, as you might expect.) Most children have one ear pierced early on and may wear a simple disc with a family or guild mark on it. Jewelers sometimes sport multiple piercings of ears and eyebrows to show off their work.
Scarification is practiced in present time only by the various small tribal communities. It’s less important to horse nomads than tattoos, but some tribes do use (small amounts of) it as additional signals of the person’s status in the tribe. Most of the marks are straight, and not particularly “designed” looking, but there is horse nomad tribe that produces elaborate designs which are earned by the deeds of those who bear them. Otherwise, it’s a signfier of punishment recognized throughout the Eight Kingdoms and Aarenis: branding, cutting, or whipping leaves scars (sometimes specially marked with dye, as in Sheepfarmer’s Daughter) to mark the person as a dangerous criminal and certainly doesn’t qualify as body art.
There’s more, but that’s a start. [edited–forgot to add categories & tags]