Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Nudes that I See- A Series on Beautiful Bodies of our Times- 1

(A Photography work by Abul Azad)

I have been thinking about writing about nudes for a long time. I have come across several nude men and women in my life. Many of them have stripped willingly for me. I have also taken pains to peep into somebody’s privacy and see their naked bodies. I like naked bodies because they tell you a lot about that person. I don’t judge people according to their colour or size. I just look at them. Admire them. And in several of my writings I have incorporated those impressions I have received while looking at those naked bodies.

Nakedness is an original state of body. For several reasons including religion, climate and sexual arousal people dress it up or deck it up. Wearing clothes is a daily ritual that all the people do without fail or drudgery. But undressing or taking out clothes is a rash act, perhaps and unmindful one. You can be thinking about something and take out your clothes as if you were doing something quite mechanical, like changing the gear while driving. You don’t tell yourself, ‘now I am in third gear, as I need to increase the speed, I am going to shift it to fourth’. You just do it. Unclothing is a mechanical act.

Nudity is a resultant state of the body as witnessed by someone. When someone decides to become nude, the unclothing happens very consciously. Imagine those particular moments in your life; you are alone in your dressing room. You have just come out the shower. The towel around your body is hot enough to suck the wetness away from your skin. On the left cheek you feel a tuft of wet hairs stuck as if they together were defining the contour of your face in a different way. You stand before the large mirror. You take the towel off from your waist or chest. You know you are going to wear a set of clothes that you have chosen specially for that day. You may have to attend an interview, impress a boss, meet a date and receive someone from the airport or just to feel happy about yourself. But suddenly you see yourself reflected in the mirror.

(Saskia by Rembrandt)

You look at yourself carefully. Your eyes run along the imaginary contours of your body. You shift your legs, turn a bit to the right and see whether that posture of yours is appealing. And you shift to the left and see again. Your eyes run through each and every inch of your body. You can stand like that for hours. You love you; more than anyone else love you, you love yourself. But what do you love in yourself? Your body? When you love your body you are just loving your nudity; you are the actor and the result, you are the object and subject of your gaze. None could enjoy your body much better than yourself. Being Narcissistic is not a deranged psychological order. It is the final step to philosophical contemplation. You love your nudity. When you love your own nude you love the nude of others also.

But how do you differentiate between nudity and nakedness? Nakedness is natural. It is like sky and your mind or the sky reflected in your mind. You wear sky in your perennial nakedness. Nudity is something created out of a context. You enjoy your nudity because just before that moment of pleasure you were clad in a towel or a pair of clothes. Nudity is a zone of transition that allows you to have glimpses of your perennial nakedness. In your ultimate nakedness, your body, your nude body becomes irrelevant. However the pathways become irrelevant, they don’t cease to be pathways. So it is always good to enjoy your own nudity and the nudity of others. That does not mean that I am propagating the idea of peeping and voyeurism. Nor do I promote pornography. Pornography is a zone of ambiguity and meaninglessness where nude bodies are posted or posited for unproductive gazing. Pornography is manufactured by irreverently mixing nakedness and nudity for commercial purpose. Pornography always acts out of the body; it is a simulacrum and operates in a simulacral space. It gives out the impression of being there but it is never there.

In Sabeena Gadihoke’s documentary on the life of the veteran woman photographer, late Homai Vyarawalla, there is a very touching scene. Homai looks at the camera and tells in a tired but firm voice, “This is a biological thing to age.” She knows that she is decaying in her body and dying day by day. But even at that point of time what she likes to talk about is her body. “I am not this body. This is just a shell and this shell is bound to break. But even when I talk to you now, there is another Homai in me. Another young girl in me. It is she who is talking. What you see is nothing.” (This is paraphrased by me) Only an artist or philosopher could talk like that. This body is nothing. This body is bound to break. But still we love it. The more we love our body, the more we love the body of others because...

(Painting by Modigliani)

Because, a beautiful body is a nude body and you would like to see nude bodies. That does not mean that clothed bodies are ugly bodies. Nor do I believe that when someone becomes nude he or she naturally turns out to be beautiful. But my view is that one could be beautifully nude by undressing for oneself and for others. Nudity lies in trust. It is a trust between you and your own self. It is a trust between you and your witness. You become nude before someone does not mean that you have sex with that person. Two people could be completely at ease with clothes. Similarly they could be at ease even if both are nude or one of them is nude. Clothes cannot decide the moral code of conduct of a society. Clothes are a pretext to keep people under hegemonic control.

When a painter, sculptor or a film maker does a nude, he or she collapses the hegemonic controls. Feminists say that male artists painting nude females represent the male gaze therefore male chauvinistic morals and rules. This is absolutely true. But an artist is a person who ultimately reveres the nude body of a woman or a man. A film maker, if he or she is sensitive, could bring the soul of a character through the nude body of an actor or actress. It is very difficult to write about nudes in words. You can theorize nudity and nakedness the way Kenneth Clark had done. You can argue for and against the idea of nudity in art, film and literature. You can go on giving details of nude figures in words. But what about a series of writing on nude people, both male and female? I think that is the task that I have taken up for myself. I don’t know whether that would be successful or not.

I remember a situation written by the noted Malayalam novelist, (Late) V.K.N in his novel ‘Aarohanam’ (Ascendance). The protagonist of the novel who goes by the name, Payyan (A Guy) is a supremely clever journalist who could enter even into the bedrooms of politicians. One of the politicians wants to be a prominent minister in the centre. Sunanda, the wife of the politician is in love with Payyan. In the drawing room a heated political discussion is on. Payyan walks into the bedroom. Suananda hugs him and kisses him. Then V.K.N says, “Payyan looked at the large mirror. There Sunanda was coming out of her white saree as if the moon from a thicket of clouds.” This is a very pathetic translation of the original Malayalam. But when you see this imagery created out of words, you could see the nudity of Sunanda willingly revealed for Payyan because he trusts herself and there is an unwritten trust between her and him.

(Work by Robert Mapplethrope)

I have seen hundreds of naked bodies. And a few nude bodies. But I can say that I have seen enough nude bodies to write a series on nude men and women. Kiyari, was a young boy of seventeen, when I first met him. I too was seventeen years old. I was in an artist’s studio. Kiyari was a friend of the artist. When he came inside, the artist introduced me to him. My artist friend was making a portrait of me in oil colours. I was wearing a blue shirt with horizontal white stripes. It looked like a camouflage clothe, the kind of clothe worn by LTTE leader (late) Prabhakaran. My moustache was not thick and beard was sparse. But the wild hair gave me an impressive look. Artist friend too was young and he was deeply influenced by two artists then; Vincent Vangogh and Pablo Picasso. Hence, this portrait of mine was in the post-impressionist mode with thick impasto of strokes.

Kiyari stood before me and smiled at me; at that age I had seen that kind of smile only on two creatures. One, the sculptures of Buddha. Two, sleeping dogs. You also might have noticed the dogs smiling in their sleep. If you have not, please look at the sleeping dogs. Kiyari smiled at me like a sleeping dog. He did not say anything. He removed his clothes one by one. His breasts were sagging. And he had a pot belly. His pubic hairs were not so thick and he had a very long penis. It was circumcised. His hands hung from his shoulders as if they were two unwanted protrusions of his body. His back was a bit bent and his buttocks were round. He again smiled at me. I was not a stranger to homo sexuality or such acts. My artist friend went on painting my portrait as if nothing had happened. Kiyari, the nude man stood in front of me.

I was not sure whether there was any trust or pact between me and him for I was seeing him for the first time in my life. My trust, however, was unimportant in that situation. It was Kiyari who was trusting me. He thought he could show his nudity to me. He wanted to flaunt what he had. Then he kneeled before me and started kneading my thighs. I smiled at him. His hands moved along my body and I don’t remember whether I liked it or not. My young artist friend went on painting. Kiyari, after touching me for a few minutes, went and reclined on a mattress. I imagined the paintings of Modigliani. And I thought Kiyari was really a handsome young man.

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