I Got Naked in a State Art Gallery
“Dude, I’m freaking out!” I gasped.
Arm-in-arm with my friend Ayla, I waddled into the disrobing area, conveniently located in the main fucking foyer of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
“Don’t touch the art unless it touches you,” said the exhibitionist, before instructing the audience of 100 to strip.
Everyone stood motionless, grappling with their clothes as if they’d never undressed, anxiously awaiting the first tit-slip. Soon enough, a silent Fuck it resounded around the room, and the audience bared all. We became submerged in a sea of penis and pussy.
“I didn’t realise how small men are when they’re not erect!” was one of Ayla’s first realisations.
Around us flopped a couple elephant trunks, a few landing strips (outnumbered by a large amount of bush), numerous flaps, endless tan lines, fields of flab, sprinkles of wrinkles, sagging bosoms and a sundry of smiles. All age groups were present, and nobody was perfect – not even close – which made us feel comfortable in our bodies and unashamed of our so-called “flaws”.
Immediately, we realised it was a highly de-sexualised environment. There was not a single erection in sight… much to our disappointment.
As we entered the exhibition space, naked dancers began performing amongst the assortments of sculptures and paintings to the riveting reverberations of classical music. They slowly folded into each other like pieces of origami to form living statues throughout the crowd, showing how truly beautiful the human body is in all its glory and diversity. At times, the dancers slapped and bit at each other’s limbs, as if to satirise the situation and assert that nudity is no biggie.
Ayla and I trudged on with cheeky grins and raised chins, allowing our bits-and-bobs to flop around freely, rewarming to the natural state we were born in.
Suddenly, the walls became narrower inside the exhibition, and shit got awkward. “I’m just going to squeeze past you now!” we whimpered to strangers, pivoting to the side with outstretched arms, fearing we would brush against a titty or pee-pee.
Strolling past Picasso’s Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, we were reminded how such works were condemned as erotic and sinful, blinding early 20th century audiences from recognising them as art, not pornography. Because the notion of sex has been such a huge deal for humanity to grapple with for thousands of years, we have forgotten how to disassociate the act of disrobing from sex – or the act of accidentally brushing up against someone whilst naked from sex.
Sex is, indeed, nudism and naturisms biggest enemy. Yet it seems ironic that a teenager raised in a naturist community would not even flinch if he saw a woman remove her brassier, whereas a non-nudist teenager would probably start wanking in the bushes.
Ayla and I wandered into a room containing a mesmerising sculpture titled The Kiss, depicting two naked forms wrapped around each other in a passionate pash. The audience surrounding the sculpture became chatty – until now, silence had pervaded the exhibition.
People were getting comfortable!
Soon enough, we started chatting with a 40-year-old naturist, our genitals dangling cheerfully beside one another. He explained that going nude in nature induces a state of meditation – the weightlessness and freedom from clothing, the warmth of the sun embracing every skin cell and the sensation of rain droplets trickling over every limb were some of the best sensations he had experienced. According to him, the stresses of past and future slip away as near-erotic sensuality takes over, whilst wearing the smallest article of clothing enervates the experience.
We also discussed how humans spend a lot of time carefully curating their appearance, or “social masks”, which impacts human socialisation. Although fashion is an admirable art form, externalised identities can categorise people into groups of difference, often restricting them from attempting to converse with one another.
The punk rock kids of the 1980s wore leather jackets, drainpipe jeans and shredded sneakers because they wanted people to know that they were edgy and rebellious; women with Versace handbags slouched over their shoulders and Prada fuck-me pumps want people to know they are high-class and stylish. Whilst naked, the exterior does not say much, or speak at all – allowing for greater inclusivity and authenticity in conversation.
The last room of the exhibition was filled with works by contemporary artists displaying an erotic and confronting series of nude photographs, including works by Cindy Sherman. The pieces were mainly female, but were far from pornographic – instead, they were beautiful and conceptual.
For Ayla, these photographs reminded her why nudism is important for feminism. She explained that whilst some women dress provocatively and claim they gain seductive power over men, nudism puts everyone on equal footing. Naturist women do not choose to unclothe themselves for attention, attraction or competition: they do it purely for themselves.
After a mere hour in the nude, Ayla and I were socialising, squeezing through the crowd, and feeling super free and alive. Upon exiting the gallery, I couldn’t help but wonder: if people were exposed to each other’s imperfections whilst witnessing the transformations human bodies undergo through ageing, rather than being eternally disillusioned to them through clothing, could it transform people’s insecurities?
Many of us are attached to the idea of perfect bodies and genitals – a concept perpetuated by advertising, television and pornography – which is probably why the amount of money spent on cosmetic surgery topped 12.9 billion dollars in the United States in 2016, with liposuction and breast augmentation being the most common procedures. Men too are increasingly transforming themselves into emotionally unstable balloons, with a large number undergoing abdominal etching and penis enlargement procedures.
Meanwhile, various psychological studies have found that nudist women and children exposed to non-sexual nudity have higher self-esteem and pride in their bodies than those who spend their lives in concealment. Even the naturist we met at the exhibition asserted that he had witnessed many men and women overcome insecurities about their bodies through social nudism, resulting in deflated sexual anxieties and increased satisfaction in the size and shape of their genitals.
Society has made such drastic efforts to become “civilised” that we have compulsively made everything a huge fucking deal, including nudity, when really, it shouldn’t be that way. We strive so hard for perfect beauty that we forget it is mostly impossible. We worry so much about our external appearance that we forget it is a mask. We forget to love our bodies, but they’re the only ones we’ve got.
Something about taking your clothes off and getting your arse cheeks burnt to a crisp transforms a trip to the sea into something greater. I’m reminded of this every time I go to a nude beach and return home feeling like I have broken free of an inescapable constraint. There is something powerful and healing about getting your kit off. I’m not saying we should all give up clothing, but I really think it would be good for humanity to get a little naked from time to time – somewhere in nature where we won’t catch crabs. Give it a go, you prudes!