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The 100 Nude Women at the RNC Were Not Staging a Protest

Photographer Spencer Tunick rallied the women for a controversial art action.

by Beckett Mufson
Jul 20 2016, 8:35pm

One hundred women stood naked in public violating Cleveland, Ohio's nudity laws in a field across the river from the Republican National Convention early Sunday morning. Artist Spencer Tunick had invited the women to take off their clothes and hold mirrors above their heads to shine light and heat on the Cleveland Convention Center.  The gathering titled Everything She Says Means Everything is more than a protest despite multiple headlines labeling it as such. For Tunick it's an art action.

"A protest you go in knowing that there could be confrontation, and you're willing to sacrifice for that confrontation," he tells The Creators Project. "An art action is more conceptual. I'm making art, making a statement, and disseminating information about what happened." 

Tunick continues, "I wanted to make a final artwork that was compelling to me, and I feel I did that." But he stresses that the women and their ideas are the most important piece of the puzzle. "This was a group effort," he says. "They are the heroes." Many in the crowd of 100 feel they have been shamed for the way their bodies look and cornered by legislation aimed at their rights. A number directed their mirrors at would-be Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, for his antagonistic comments toward women, notably Rosie O'Donnell, Megyn Kelly, and Hillary Clinton.

"As a human being, I want to stand up against Trump and other Republicans whose hateful speech towards women, immigrants, LGBT people, and all 'others' is poisoning this nation," says one of Tunick's collaborators in the testimonial section of his website. 

Tunick has been arrested five times since 1992 for planning similar art actions, until he won a lawsuit in 2000 protecting his work under New York City's nudity laws. Since then, he's become more ambitious, artistically and politically. In 2003, he supported artist Wendy Tremayne in a protest against the Iraq war, providing contact info for a group of women who spelled the words "No Bush" in a Central Park snow bank. 

The message of his latest work is more subtle than No Bush, encouraging others to express their feelings and opinions rather than emphasizing his own. One woman joined Tunick's artwork out of curiosity. "I just wanted to be there. I've never seen 100 naked women," says Madison Johnson. "I don't know, for me, that this was an act of expression, or an act of protest or anything like that. Tunick's vision, you know, art starts out one way and ends up being or meaning something else."

Participant Daija Averyheart had another interpretation, "An art protest like this can and did reach new heights." She says, "We caught the attention of a lot of people because of HOW we did it. How we went about this caught a lot of people by surprise and now we are having the conversation about why we did this, what we're trying to get across." 

However you name it, the contrast between Tunick's Everything She Says Means Everything and the protests currently simmering at the edge of the Cleveland convention center is palpable. In the three days since Tunick's nude takeover, there have been five arrests so far, and the combination of pro- and anti-Trump forces are heating up. Tunick thinks about historical incidents like the nude protestors arrested while spreading information about AIDS outside of the 2004 RNC at Madison Square Garden. Considering the dozens arrested outside of Trump rallies this year, the fact that no one was arrested at Tunick's riverside field feels like progress.

Oddly, this isn't the first time Tunick has stood opposite Donald Trump for his art. In 1994, Tunick evaded security cameras to capture a likeness of Rodin's iconic nude sculpture, The Thinker, in front of Trump's Taj Mahal hotel.  At the time, the photographer sought to capture a feeling of "whimsy and humor," rather than actually protest the bawdy billionaire. Two decades later, protest still isn't Tunick's endgame.

Image courtesy Spencer Tunick

Spencer Tunick and his wife Kristin have two new books out called Reaction Zone and Participant, which you can find on their website. Learn more about Everything She Says Means Everything and read testimonials for the Cleveland art action here.

Related:

Naked Blue Bodies and Brooke Shields, Curator | Last Week in Art

Art Trends: The New Nude

20 Female Artists' Perspectives on the Nude | The Creators Project

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