Nudity in the Upspace: An exclusive interview with the event’s creators

1235035_10151675864377469_1921664586_nNudity in the Upspace—a week-long event that “discusses and explores nudity in all forms” by way of nude body painting, nude yoga, and nude performance—is back for its second year. The event is currently taking place at Production Workshop’s Upspace, and has triggered international press coverage from The Huffington Post, Jezebel, CBS, and Daily Mail UK. Online comments on these articles range from encouraging messages to the students involved with the event to vitriolic attacks on Brown students and the institution itself.

On the heels of this influx of attention, BlogDH sat down with Becca Wolinsky ‘14, Camila Pacheco-Fores ‘14 and Gabrielle Sclafani ’14, the three main organizers of the event, to discuss their take on body image, nude performance, and press coverage. Check out the interview after the jump.

BlogDH: What was the process of conceiving Nudity in the Upspace like?

Becca: When we were juniors, I applied to the Production Workshop Upspace lottery with the idea of Nudity in the Upspace. It wasn’t completely formed but I was thinking about a week that would include events where the audience and participants could be as nude or as clothed as they wanted to be. It would consist of events to explore body image, nudity, what does it mean to be nude as college students at Brown, exploring ideas of sexuality and disassociating [nudity] from sexuality.

Camila: And from those initial ideas, Becca brought in the idea of doing the more theatre-based events. I practice yoga and teach bikram, and the body painting and the arts are more my thing, so we sort of meshed our interests together to create the week as an exploration and celebration of bodies in general, through being naked.

Becca: Yes, celebrating bodies but not necessarily saying that everyone should love their body, just realizing that there are things that many people face. We are trying to create a safe and comfortable space for people to talk about issues of body image, desexuality, sexuality, et cetera.

Camila: I think we were also interested in creating a naked space at Brown that is separate from the naked parties and the Naked Donut Run— the crowd that is drawn to those is very much skinny, white hipsters, so we wanted to make a space that was open to all different kinds of bodies.

Gabi: I got involved as part of the devised piece last year and I really enjoyed my experience; it was the first time I was really publicly naked and it’s not something that I do in other areas of my life. But, I feel like what we do with Nudity in the Upspace is very important because our events are very thoughtful and intentional in addressing reasons why people don’t want to be naked or cannot be naked in various spaces. That’s really important to me.

BlogDH: How is this year’s week different than last year’s?

Camila: I think this year we came in having the expectations from how last year was— I mean, last year we had no idea what it was going to be like, if anyone would come or who would come and if it would have the effect we intended. For me, it did. People came and felt positive about it, or felt challenged. I guess coming back this year we thought, “Okay, how can we make that happen again but then do it in a more mindful way, thinking about the things we could’ve missed, like [Wednesday’s] panel.”

Gabi: I think the panel as well as some of the topics addressed in the devised piece this year are specifically formulated to fill in the gaps that were obvious to us either through our own critiques or through the critiques of others following last year’s events. Specifically, the panel is called “Stripping Privileges” and it’s about the idea of who has the privilege or right to be naked in our society and why that is. Why are some bodies privileged over others and what does it mean to not be one of those bodies?

Becca: Also, last year it had a very body-positive focus. [I’m] not saying that this year is body-negative, but this year we are really trying to send a message that says: “It is okay to feel how you feel about these issues, about your body. You don’t always have to feel beautiful.”

Camila: And also you as an individual are the person whose opinion matters about that. We can’t prescribe anything and I think we do a good job of that by sharing our own personal experiences and not creating generalizations.

Gabi: One of the struggles in that regard is that there can be a lot of pressure [to be naked] among groups of friends who are attending some of these events. I don’t think these ideas are necessarily coming from us, other than the fact that we run an event called Nudity in the Upspace, but I think it’s something we want to focus on this year. It’s okay to not want to be naked. There’s no reason you have to be naked in front of somebody.

Becca: Also, given all the recent press and the really, really hurtful comments, while I think it’s important to stress that while you don’t need to be naked, please respect those who do engage with this space. It’s not just about running around naked and it’s not about what the comments say, which are certain things like— people are equating it with porn or—

Gabi: Or calling the participants sluts.

Becca: Exactly, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. What we’re doing— we have a goal in mind, we are trying to create dialogue, conversation, destigmatization and it’s hard when people twist the message that we’re trying to send.

BlogDH: Some people would argue that this event is pretty female-centric. Do you think it is?

Camila: The coordinators are all female and we are strong female voices in the event, but I think that the male voice is definitely present.

Becca: Three out of the seven people in the performance on Friday are men. Two out of the four on Thursday are men.

BlogDH: Is there a difference between a male Brown student and female Brown student attending this event?

Camila: I remember last year I was very pleasantly surprised at the very even distribution of men versus women. It’s a lot more even than you may think.

Becca: Speaking of attendance, I was wondering if there is any way you could— we have three sold out performances for the devised piece on Friday but I’m a little worried about attendance for the plays.

BlogDH: Do you want me to ask you about the plays?

[Laughter]

Becca: Ask me about the plays!!!

BlogDH: So, tell me about the plays.

Becca: We’ve all had experience performing and therefore have been thinking about the performativity of nudity— I mean, even talking on the phone naked can be considered performing because it’s not normal. Something we thought would be cool from the get-go would be to have nude plays. What does it mean to perform a play without clothes on? Does it take away or does it enhance the ideas conveyed in the story? Also, the plays are just awesome. I think the devised piece and the panel are meant to be really deep, while the plays are fun and exciting, just thinking about what does it mean to perform naked and why do it or why not do it.

BlogDH: Personally, what drew you to Nudity in the Upspace? What was your driving passion to become involved in such a controversial event?

Becca: The reason why I feel comfortable being naked at all is because of my family. My family experience has instilled a spirit within me that makes me think, “Bodies are okay.” We were all born naked, so why is being naked often so stigmatized and why is it so often connected to sexuality? I guess my driving force is separating nudity from sexuality.

Gabi: My interest in participating in this came from listening to Becca talk about it and realizing that I had had a very opposed experience growing up regarding how my family talks (or doesn’t talk) about bodies. I was told growing up repeatedly to cover up, to not wear short skirts. Even today, if we drive past girls on the street wearing really short skirts, my mom will say, “They don’t have any pants on!” And last year, I didn’t tell my family that I was participating in this because I knew they would disapprove. This year, I did admit it to them, in part because I’ve grown in my personal acceptance of it. When I first started participating, I wasn’t sure it was something that I was comfortable with. But after my experience last year, I realized that it was incredibly important to me and that my comfort level with my body had risen exponentially. I had always felt like a body that didn’t fit in among my friend group growing up and through the conversations we had last year, it matters so much less to me now, the idea of a body fitting in. Because I stop ascribing to the idea that I need to fit in. And I was able to open up to my family about the fact that I’m doing this and really revel in their acceptance because it’s something that I knew would appall my mother. And it did appall my mother but I was able to explain it to her in an intellectual way as to why it’s important. It’s something that I’m very proud of now.

Camila: I decided to do nude modeling for [Visual Arts] classes and some of the same reasons why I did nude modeling are why I did Nudity in the Upspace. I used to be very, very, very uncomfortable with nudity, both in my own body and other people’s bodies. I just felt this incredible awkwardness, which I don’t think is particularly weird but— I just, I created all these boundaries around my body and didn’t really even feel comfortable naked by myself. I started questioning why that was. And then I did nude modeling and I actually really liked it. I realized that a body can be seen as a work of art. That’s what led me into Nudity in the Upspace— how can bodies be works of art. They don’t need to be clothed. This year, I wanted to do it again because by engaging in the process, I discovered all these things that were important to me. One of the things that I’ve been most self-conscious about and have had the most shame about my entire life has been the hair on my body, which is tied a lot to being Latina and that heritage. It was something that I was able to admit in front of people, which was a huge step for me. Personally, just being able to accept what is there for me— I wanted to continue that.

BlogDH: What do you have to say to all of the criticism?

Becca: For me, there’s actually been some personally offensive things and it’s taken a toll on me because it’s hard to hear. But then again, I think back to the reasons why we are doing what we are doing and I would love if these people could come see it. If the haters could see it maybe they would change their attitudes about why we’re doing this.

Gabi: What I’m overwhelmed by in reading the comments, beyond just how incredibly offensive some of the things being said are— and I mean offensive on a variety of levels: offensive to Becca and Camila (my name has not been mentioned) but also blatantly racist comments and attacks on Brown as a liberal institution. But I’m mostly overwhelmed by the ignorance. These people have made no effort to research beyond doing a Google image search of participants. They’re not invested in thinking about the reasons why we’re doing this. They label it as a way for ugly girls to get some action or as a porn show and they’re clearly not looking into or understanding all the reasons we’ve just explained to you in this interview about why it’s important to talk about nudity and why it’s a basis for discussion. The comments they’re making are the reason we have to do this. One woman wrote that as the mother of two brilliant sons, or something like that, she was going to tell all the young ladies out there that they should never reveal their bodies because a woman’s greatest asset is a man’s imagination. It’s absurd to me that an argument against this would be that we need to shelter our bodies in order to insure their value, that we lose value in our bodies by revealing them. I think that’s a very destructive mode of thought that results in feelings of shame for activities that can be very healthy and productive.

Camila: I agree with all of that. For me, it’s like, “Hater’s gonna hate.” That’s their life and they can do what they want with it and I’m going to do what I want with mine. I truly believe in what we’re doing and believe that it’s an important and powerful thing so I just keep that in mind and let other people have their opinions.

BlogDH: How supported (or not) do you feel by the Brown administration and general community?

Camila: It was so well-received last year that I just feel incredibly supported and excited about it.

Gabi: I do as well. It’s interesting because a lot of the commenters are attacking Brown as an institution, saying that the administration is cowardly or that it’s disgusting that they let these things go on. But our administration is not cowardly. I think it’s so brave that they allow this and I am proud to go to a school that understands our motives and endorses them.

Nudity in the Upspace runs through Saturday at PW. The events are listed below.

For more information, check out the event’s Facebook page.

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9 Comments

  1. You can be nude, without having sex. Most Americans don’t understand this.

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