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Fakir Musafar (1930–2018)

Fakir Musafar, a performance artist, photographer, pain guru, and Silicon Valley salesman who sought transcendence by piercing and constricting his body in extreme ways, has died at age eighty-seven. The cause was lung cancer. Musafar is considered the father of the “modern primitive” movement, a phrase he coined in the late 1970s. His views on body-modification earned him thousands of international followers who practiced spiritual elevation through shamanic rituals and meditation practices like body suspension, a technique he pioneered and taught. Dubbed an “astronaut of inner spaces” by anthropologist Charles Gatewood, Musafar became an inspiration for underground and avant-garde art movements by spreading his beliefs about physical expression and non-Western attitudes toward the body.

Musafar was born Robert Loomis in 1930 in South Dakota, where his childhood interest in the rituals he observed in National Geographic soon led him to experiment with what he called “body play.” At age thirteen—around the time he claimed to lose his psychometric abilities—Musafar began documenting his consciousness-altering experiences in the basement darkroom of his childhood home. He would later adopt the name of an Iranian Sufi and publish his self-portraits in underground publications and then, between 1990 and 1999, in his own magazine, BODY PLAY, a photographic quarterly that focused on body exploration. Musafar, who practiced body mutilation in secret for decades, was originally embraced by gay s/m communities and tattoo groups in Los Angeles and eventually gained global recognition after being featured in Charles Gatewood’s 1985 documentary Dances Sacred and Profane, which chronicles various American subcultures. The film premiered the same year as the publication Modern Primitives, a popular book of photographs of and interviews with Musafar edited by V. Vale and Andrea Juno. In 2002, Musafar published Spirit + Flesh, a collection of his own photographs.