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[Exclusive] An Artist Spent Four Years Building a New Tower of Babel—from Millions of Nudes

Millions of bodies form the pillars and arches of an imaginary Babylonian metropolis that fills every inch of the massive 39' x 9' composite photograph.

by Beckett Mufson
08 August 2016, 3:15pm

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Angelo Musco, Sanctuary, 2016. Exclusive images courtesy of the artist

This article contains adult content. 

For four years, a biblical vision has compelled Italian artist Angelo Musco to travel the world photographing nude models and stitching them into a massive, painterly facsimile of the Tower of Babel. Millions of bodies form the pillars and arches of an imaginary Babylonian metropolis that fills every inch of the 39' x 9' composite photograph, titled Sanctuary. There are so many individual parts to this artwork that even Musco admits he can't keep track of them all. "It is impossible to understand the total number when every inch is filled on this 39-foot piece," he tells The Creators Project. "I really lost count."

Musco traveled to New York, Buenos Aires, London, Berlin, and Naples to capture the human formations that make up each tower, uniting the many-languaged people scattered across the earth in the original story from Genesis. “In creating a whole kingdom of towers inspired by the Tower of Babel, I wanted the ironic twist of reversing what happened in that story so I intentionally sought out diverse groups of models who spoke different languages and came from different cultures which necessitated staging photo shoots around the world," Musco says. He photographed an all-volunteer army throughout dozens of shoots, on greenscreens arranged by local organizations in each city. "We worked together and symbolically built a community in peace and harmony, building walls for protection not separation, and bridges that join people together physically and conceptually which I didn’t realize four years ago would be so prophetic today," says the artist. 

Angelo Musco, Sanctuary (Detail), 2016

Pieter Bruegel, The Tower of Babel, 1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, oil on board. Via Wikimedia Commons

When he first proposed Sanctuary, many were daunted by its magnitude. "When I didn’t feel the support for the work it made me start questioning myself. I tried putting it away but I kept coming back to it and finally I knew that if I was going to be happy I had to start it. It actually complicated relationships for me and on many levels. [It] was very stressful to be committed to such a large work without any guarantees of how it would be finished and produced," Musco recounts. But he did it anyway, spending four years recruiting models, coordinating shoots, and editing for 8-10 hours editing every day. Originally designed to be a single tower, Musco continuously fought a feeling that something was missing, building the architecture for a full city.

The resulting photograph is painterly, reminiscent of iconic renderings of the Tower of Babel by artists like Hendrick Van Cleve III, Lucas Van Valckenborch, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whom Musco studied in designing the otherworldly architecture. In fact, he sees his style of digitally composited nudes as related to the techniques of these masters. "In essence I use the nudes as if they are paint in my brush," he explains.

The nudity of the models is pivotal. Due to complications during birth, Musco's childhood was defined by partial paralysis and the intense physical therapy. A passionate fascination with the human form, evident in his previous "bodyscapes," followed the intense attention he was required to pay. "The body in its natural state became a symbol for me of beauty, honesty and a way to hopefully communicate a universal message," he explains.

Today he reveals the final version of Sanctuary in this The Creators Project exclusive. The photo will be on display at the Maison Particulière Art Center in Brussels, Belgium in a called From Here to Eternity starting October 5. Below, find details of the piece revealing how each model fits into the larger structure, as well as a video demonstrating Musco's technique. "After four years of concentration I feel like I’m floating in the air and suspended," Musco says with an air of relief. "I’m letting this work go and I hope it has legs to walk on its own."

See more of Angelo Musco's work on his website.

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architecture
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bible
Nude photography
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4 years
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The Tower of Babel
millions of nudes