New York


A woman has told how uses her rare and ‘embarrassing’ skin condition to produce intimate works of art.

Ariana Page Russell, 34, based in Brooklyn, New York, suffers from dermatographia which means when she rubs or scratches herself a red, swollen imprint is left on the spot.

In a bid to combat stigma, she started photographing the marks on her body - to date her images have been exhibited at galleries across the US. She uses a blunt knitting needle to write text or create abstract patterns on her stomach, arms, legs and face. The designs, which are pain-free, last for about 30minutes before fading. She once told ABC News: ‘People think it’s pretty weird. Either [they] think that it’s beautiful, or that it’s interesting or . . . kind of disgusting. ‘The exact cause of dermatographia is not known and it is thought to affect around five per cent of the population. There are not many treatment options available and typically people are given anti-histamines or steroids to help.

However, Ms Russell says she is not looking for a cure. ‘To me my skin is a canvas . . .I think it’s fun to be able to draw on myself, I like it.’ Growing up she said that she blushed easily and always had random bumps and swellings on her skin.

For years she thought it was normal and it was only in college, studying towards her master’s degree in art at the University of Washington in Seattle, that she decided to seek medical help. ‘I was getting really frustrated about the amount of teasing that was happening,’ she recalled. It was mostly just my friends joking around but then people would always say “Your face is so red, are you ok?”‘ After being diagnosed with dermatographia she decided to raise awareness through photography. ‘I just thought there’s something really powerful in that because I have no control over it, it just happens. ‘I wanted to capture that feeling of vulnerability and just that fleeting thing that happens in a flush.’

She has since produced wallpaper, collage, video, and temporary tattoos inspired by her skin condition.

Last year she also launched a blog titled ‘dermatographism’ for other sufferers to share their own images and stories. Concluding, she said: ‘Skin in general I think is really fascinating, it’s our largest organ... it keeps us alive.’