Photos courtesy of rhealise
Modelling courtesy of allihillart
We carried out this performance four times on the same day in Barcelona; a male and female model each completing the performance in underwear and then nude. We varied the location for each performance, but kept the ‘type’ of the location consistent. The models wore blindfolds and earphones, and signage was put up to state that they were standing for body confidence, and encouraging the public to draw a heart on their body.
Our first attempt at this, with a female in model was ended quickly. We’d set up in a small square but about 5 minutes later one of the buildings emptied and the quad filled with young children – it doubled as a school playground! The children didn’t seem particularly bothered, and no-one had complained, but we decided it was probably best to cut our losses and try again elsewhere!
There was very little difference in reaction when the models were in underwear as opposed to when they were nude. We ended up setting up on a small pedestrianised street (although we moved for each new performance) and in some cases the immediate shop-keepers complained to us, mainly because they felt we were damaging their trade. However, otherwise the response was mainly positive, with people actively thanking the models for what they were doing. The one exception was one lady who complained to the observers when it was a male nude perform that it was inappropriate and that there were children around. This was unusual as it was the only time whilst performing in Spain that someone has drawn a distinction around nudity between an adult and a child; whilst this would be common in the UK it is not something we’d previously experienced in Spain.Just after the male model dressed and started to walk away a police car cruised by. We’re not sure if this was just by chance of whether the aforementioned lady had complained – we knew there was a police car stationed a couple of blocks away and the timings would have been about right for it to be a complaint. If the police car did arrive as a result of the complaint, rather than just part of a standard patrol, then this is the only time the police have been pro-actively called on us (I write this about 2 years after we first started). They have however ‘caught’ us a couple of times by chance though!
Overall people interacted more with the male model than the female model. More people stopped and took photos, and more people actively participated by drawing on the model. This was true in both the underwear and nude performances. We’re not sure why this was the case, as we assumed this performance in particular, where we are overtly promoting a message about body positivity, would resonate more with the female form. We can only assume that it ties into some of what we’ve seen in other performances, where people respect towards the female body has been more widely publicised in the media, thereby causing them to overt their gaze as if they’re doing something wrong, even in consensual performances such as this.
The most moving moment of the performances came for the male model when he was doing the underwear performance. Unbeknown to us but we’d set up just round the corner from a care-home for disabled people. The ‘director’ off the care-home saw us on her coffee break and immediately brought everyone from the home out, along with their carers, to participate. All of these people had significant physical and mental disabilities. In the UK nudity law penalises individuals more severely in instances where vulnerable people are likely to be present. This definition of vulnerable people includes both children and the disabled. As already mentioned, in Spain people don’t seem to differentiate the appropriateness of nudity by age, and, out of all the reactions we had, the response from this group of disabled individuals was by far the most enthusiastic and positive out of any we received that day. For them, there may be an element of always feeling trapped by the unfortunate limitations of their own bodies, and our performance, where we made our own bodies vulnerable, and stood for the support of all body types, however abled, coloured or shaped, raised a clear desire for expression. The excitement and positivity of this group raised tears from many other people observing in the street. So why in the UK would we assume that vulnerable people, such as the disabled, need protecting from this? Is it sensible as a precaution, or are we actually just labelling and stereotyping them in a way that they’ve never asked for?