Nudity and Art: A Courageous Union
I do not love showing the world my naked body constantly…I really don’t. It makes me terribly uncomfortable, particularly because I can be pretty darn insecure.
But I just can’t help it.
On April 14th 2014, I released my new album, WE.ANIMALS., which is all about the interdependence and interconnectedness of all lifeforms.
For the year leading up to its release, we unveiled a series of images to help promote the coming album and the Kickstarter/album pre-order campaign we launched. We continued to release new images as visual companions to the record when it was finally birthed.
I got an email from a fan after we released this image, which was one of the first images (and one of my first frontal nude shots) for the coming album.
The email read:
“Why do u have to be semi naked?…isn’t it about your music?…don’t sell your image above your talent.”
My response to the fan:
“Dear ___ thank you for your concern.
Our team is not in any way concerned with, or focused on selling body image by any means. If it were the case, we would not be transforming human form into non-human animal form (ie giraffe, zebra, cow, etc). The creative purpose of the images…is to find the most raw, vulnerable way to bridge the worlds between species in order to bring our message into the visual realm. The message of the interconnectedness of all beings. All animals are born in the raw (naked) form, and so this is what we are creating. The comfort level of releasing these images was incredibly low, and to us, we saw this as an absolute need to say yes. Say yes to the discomfort. If our purpose was to sell sex, we would not transform the body images into a cow, to be clear.
We understand that messages and meanings are always understood differently to each individual when dealing with the creative realm specifically, and that in itself gives rise to conversations like this which we are prepared to have when and if necessary, or when and if we chose to do so.
Our mission is fearless art. If you see it as something other than that, we respect your views. If your eyes fall to the nudity, we ask you to look to the message instead.
The problem was, that had been my biggest fear — that the attention would be drawn to my nudity, and not to the message itself, although to me, the message was blaringly obvious.
Oh, and another thing…would this fan have reached out to me in concern if I were a MAN bearing my animalistic nipples to the world? No. Undoubtedly not.
That photo shoot was hard. All the naked photo shoots are hard for me — and for some reason, I often find myself in vulnerable positions…cold, shivering, shy, and NAKED, and on film, where they will live on forever.
I do not have what would be considered the “perfect” body. I’m curvy. I have big hips, I have large thighs, I have cellulite…I do not fit into the category that the mainstream media identifies as sexy and beautiful.
That has been a struggle for me, as it has for so many other women: body image. Not feeling skinny enough, beautiful enough, this enough, that enough. Blah blah blah.
All these internal belittling conversations make it so hard for me to bare it all to the world, curves and all. But still, I do. I must. I have no other option. This is my JOB.
The album cover for WE.ANIMALS. made for a very difficult shoot for me as well (the most difficult as of yet). The original image is also a nude shot (breasts up), with me holding a gun to my head with animal faces exploding out of me.
I did end up cutting the image just above the breasts, however, mostly because I didn’t want the image to be banned on iTunes and other online music distribution sites.
Because…as we all know…FEMALE nipple showing is…illegal in public. Gasp.
In retrospect, I wish I had at least kept the nipples on the hard copy albums (although some stores would not have carried the albums, but whatever). I mostly wish that so that I could tell you here now just how courageous I really am…but alas…I felt the gun was enough shock already for one image (more on that gun art stuff on my blog, which can be found here: www.lilarosemusic.tumblr.com/)
Released album cover w/o nipples
Unreleased album cover w/ nipples
In any case, WHY oh WHY are female nipples illegal to show in public?
It’s ok to show a woman in a g-string twirkin’ it, but it’s not ok to show our natural human form. That form which feeds and nurtures all life in its early years. What…is…this…about…?
Actually, it was also illegal for men to show their nipples until 1936, when a group of men on Coney Island protested, then got arrested and fined before liberating the male nipple.
So here we are, 2015…still fighting the fight as women.
I believe that every piece of art, every article written, every protest, every courageous woman willing to walk the streets topless, brings us one step closer to our collective freedom.
And so, this, too, has been a part of my personal “feminist” — but let’s call it “animist” — injection. My message is about equality. It’s about social justice…not about just loving animals and hoping we can treat them right. It’s about us treating EVERY living being as an equal who deserves respect, love, and protection from harm. It’s what we all want. Woman, child, grandfather, snake, tiger, pig, fish…
When I discovered the art of Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, Ulay, and other such performance artists who often use their bodies as tools for their creative expression and thus their messages, I began to better understand what I myself was doing. The only problem was, and continues to be, that I don’t really have many role models specifically in the music industry — musicians using their bodies directly for a creative message (and NOT as a selling point).
Amanda Palmer has definitely been a good distant ally, and one of the best sources of inspiration I have yet found in that regard. However, delving into the worlds of these fierce performance artists has given me the strength, time and time again, to face my strange inner proddings and tread forward unabashedly into my own creative callings.
Here are a few other shots involving partial or full nudity (although I never “show it all”):
-Road Kill (shot by Vic Bahr and Daniel Garcia)
-Zebra (by Daniel Garcia)
-The Defender (shot by Vic Bahr and Daniel Garcia)
But really, I mean REALLY? In the case of these images — what could I wear? A giraffe won’t be wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Roadkill won’t be wearing a wedding gown. In these cases, clothes were a deterrent to our essential message. We(are).Animals.
Raw, natural, pure.
As uncomfortable as these shoots are for me, I will not let anything stop me from obtaining that sacred vision, from heeding that inner calling. I see it as one of the job requirements of an artist, in a way: to allow the stream of consciousness to roll through us uncompromised.
Ok, it’s certainly not EVERY artist’s job, but it’s mine.
Some artists are here to write the love songs, and offer a completely neutral, easy entryway into their realities. Well, that’s not always what my role is here…it’s not necessarily about offering the world something “easy” and “neutral” to look at or listen to…it’s to make people feel deeply, and to help prod others to do the same deep thinking and acknowledging needed for us to evolve as a human (animal) race.
And so, my message, through my shivering nakedness, is that no matter what, let our messages be stronger than our fears.
Stand above them.
Be the message, be the beauty, be the fierceness, be the edge, walk the edge, plunge forward, and fuck it if they don’t all get it…
Art is about courageously moving forward into those dark corners which make our hearts race, and our prayers swell with fearlessness.