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For anyone who doesn’t know, “suspension” is the act of piercing various points in the skin with large hooks, and then using those piercings to hold the weight of the body as it is suspended or lifted off the ground. There are many forms of suspension and many different methods, but for the purpose of holding the body’s weight, most suspensions utilize temporary piercings in approximately an eight gauge (3.2mm in diameter) or higher.

Those who practice suspension may do so only once in their lifetime, or several times, and give a variety of reasons for choosing to engage in the practice. Among the most common reasons are: overcoming a particular fear, strengthening the mind/body connection, attaining some level of spiritual vision or enlightenment, and purely for the thrill or to prove to themselves that they can control their own feelings of pain. In recent years, following in the footsteps of shamanic performance artist Fakir Musafar, more and more performance groups are springing up around the world that include suspension in their art.

As expected, suspensions require diligent preparation in which one or several experts will evaluate the individual’s skin, determine the best placement of the hooks being used, and perform the actual piercings themselves. Depending on a number of factors, anywhere from one or two to over a dozen hooks may be used, along with one of several different types of suspension rigging which can include ropes, cables, or even chains. The depth and size of the piercings is very important, as well as their placement on the body, making it extremely important for the modification artists involved to have a thorough knowledge of human anatomy. They should also be well versed in the suspension processes from start to finish, some of which are based on the pre-existing tribal practices of the Sioux and Mandan Indians and of the Hindus that attend Thaipusam.

Some of the primary types of modern suspension have been named in accordance to the general placement of the hooks and the position in which they place the body. These include the resurrection suspension (in which two rows of hooks are placed in the abdomen), the superman (in which several piercings are placed in the back and legs), and the “angel” or “redeemer,” in which the subject is suspended upright by a set of hooks in the back that mimic the shaping of angelic wings.

There are several personalities who have become famous for their alternative stage art and practice of suspension, including Fakir Musafar, Allen Falkner, and most recently, fearless Brit Alice Newstead. Ms. Newstead made international news in 2008 when she dressed up like a shark and suspended from fishing hooks in her back to protest the over-fishing of sharks for their fins (which are considered in some places a delicacy). She repeated this stunt several times afterwards in the United States, France, Hong Kong, and elsewhere, garnering both support for her cause, and worldwide publicity.

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