Friday, 24 August 2007

Nudity, Photography and God

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Amanullah De Sondy
4th June 2007

‘Amsterdam goes nude for Spencer Tunick’, said the news headline. This American photographer had gathered over 2,000 Dutch men and women. Tunick’s work has puzzled many as to whether it should be accepted as art or pornography. The artist himself uses the human body as an ‘installation’ -challenging us, he says, to look differently at nudity and privacy. "Once you’ve taken your clothes off, it’s a friendly and communal feeling" said one of the participants.

People from all over the world have gathered in public places for his photographs of mass nudity. And what strikes me about these images - is that they are just bodies, their sexual significance is diminished. I see this work as art rather than pornography and the artist himself, calls his ongoing project "a symbol of freedom".

In most Islamic cultures modesty means covering the body and I grew up in a community where men and women have specific dress codes. It was only in my early twenties that I had the courage to start wearing shorts and take up swimming. Surely if God wanted us to be that embarrassed of our naked bodies he would have had us coming out into this world covered.

The story of Adam and Eve comes to mind here! Only when they ate from the forbidden tree were they aware of their nakedness. Nudity in this case was a symbol of a message more theological than sexual. It was a symbol of their disobedience to God's command.

Clothing the body has meant different things at different times. In today’s society clothes can empower and disempower men and women. Covering the body for warmth and survival is for most of us a thing of the past. Today it's more about fashion and power. The clothes we wear are markers or badges for others to identify with.

If we go back to the story of Adam and Eve covering our bits in leaves or Armani is a way to cover our true nature, a nature which is vulnerable and submissive. And so, maybe Tunick's message is a bold one, helping us all think about what our true nature is all about, clothed and unclothed.

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