The Male Gaze in Life Drawing

It’s 2018 and we need to call time on life drawing groups that operate too much along the lines of the male gaze. To be clear, while this is about what heterosexual men typically fantasise about, so ingrained in our society’s psyche is this paradigm (patriarchy has been dominant for the last several thousand years) that many (read most) women and in fact people have internalised it too. Even when we are aware of it, the effects of this most insidious structure are very hard to eradicate.

The Male Gaze is the idea developed by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. This says that Western art and literature have massively privileged men as active viewers, relegating women to the status of objects to be consumed by the senses, sexually. Women have value by being looked at, objectified and compliant for heterosexual male pleasure. In order for anyone to identify with this long history of art and writing, they must put themselves in the position of the heterosexual male viewer who is also white. Since this art has dominated our culture for so long, and compulsory reading materials  and works for study at all levels of our education system have been mostly comprised of it, it has hardly been possible for anyone in our society to avoid being conditioned somehow in this way. Even if you avoid all education, the same phenomenon exists in all our mainstream media. We are only really starting to see some change in relatively recent years.

Being valued mostly for our looks rather than ideas, for our bodies and not our agency, it has been very difficult for women to rise to positions of power – beyond the means of their appearance. This is further hampered by the way that we have been pitted against one another, taught to compete with each other for male attention, instead of joining forces to support one another. I know first hand how long it can take to break free of such cycles of misery. The best female friendships I have took several years to bond, with a considerable period of falling out in the beginning, before we were able to reasonably look past our differences and cease to feel threatened by each other. It is so easy to feel jealous of another’s success, when you ought simply to feel admiration and joy for your sister. I think, especially when we have been marginalised, it may be harder the more insecure we have been, to move past those painful feelings of resentment for another’s success. To stop feeling that their progress hinders our own possibility of advancement, as if there were a finite number of positions of power for women. Actually that can be a very real feeling, more than a feeling – that predicament is precisely the world we are still living in, so it is no wonder that getting past jealousy is such a bitch!

The Body Beautiful? event at The Mall Galleries was a brilliant opportunity to address issues of disfigurement, female objectification and the male gaze through the lens of figurative art; as well as how this art can be therapeutic for transforming self-perception and powerful in changing attitudes. It took place alongside the Hesketh Hubbard Art Society Annual Exhibition. We were a varied group of panelists – one (transgressive) figurative painter, two disfigurement campaigners, and one body positive artivist I might call myself. The thing I mainly wanted to speak about apart from describing what I do with Spirited Bodies, is how to decolonise life drawing of the male gaze – and by putting it that way I implicitly link the gaze with (post)colonialism. I do see the patriarchy and colonialism as inextricably interlinked in our UK culture; as historical establishment mechanisms for controlling women, people of colour, minority genders, sexualities, abilities and class… I was also asked by portrait painter Alastair Adams who was chairing the discussion, about how the rise of social media has affected the life drawing scene, and my response to that.

I spoke of the responsibility of model bookers to ensure they have as wide a variety and diversity as possible of models, especially if they are large, influential, well-established groups. Such groups are likely to have a considerable number of artists attending who run their own groups elsewhere (in London and beyond), so that models may often be sourced from the larger group, and as well artists pick up standards of practice there. Naturally this means there is a greater responsibility in terms of social conscience that lies with those who book models for bigger groups. Where naked people are being selected to be drawn, I don’t think anyone in London in 2018 can claim that this is not a political choice. Whose bodies are they? Which genders, which ages, colours, sizes, shapes and abilities? There is a huge amount of choice available here in London, and that needs to be completely recognised, and not simply left for the more politically switched on groups out there who make the effort to take risks. With a climate increasingly embracing diversity and inclusivity, the risk is less and less a commercial one, and in fact more one of being called out.

That said, some smaller groups can’t afford to take (commercial) risks as attendance of artists/drawers may drop off if they book less conventionally attractive models more frequently, or simply book male models on consecutive weeks for example. I warned that we all need to be mindful of how the male gaze can affect the decisions of model bookers as it can be insidious, within all of us, so we need to keep questionning our ‘normal’.  What is deemed normal in a lot of (slightly old-fashioned) groups is having a much higher proportion of female models than male, and this is because the male gaze (which as I said is in women as well) prefers to look at women. It wasn’t always so however in Western art, as up until about the 16th century, male nudes were far more common and acceptable than female. The other predominant ‘normal’ nowadays, is a preference for young, slim yet curvy women; so that for example if larger women are booked consecutively this may be considered remarkable, but if several weeks of slim female models go by, no objection is raised.

In our patriarchal society we have learned to live with the prevalence of some people’s presumed right to consume the female body in some form or another; in particular the body of females who need money, and that sense of power becoming encoded in a particular and often very narrow aesthetics. Then ‘artists’ are free to say, “That’s just what I enjoy drawing,” without investigating their preference. That’s something which we at Spirited Bodies very much want to question and raise awareness about.

As a group of life models, some of us jointly prepared for ‘The Body Beautiful?’ event in a discussion group. How to tackle the unconscious bias of the male gaze, and how do we want to talk about bodies – which words are we using? So often the descriptors for life modelling jobs fall into extremes of plus-size, slim, athletic, dancer, young, voluptuous… but what of the vast majority of human bodies – are they not interesting to draw as well? When we draw a person, we don’t just draw a body but the unique energy which that person has. The average, in between size, ordinary everyday bodies; these ought to be celebrated and called for if we are to truly embrace body and human positivity. The concept of body equality feels important to us, and this was something which resonated with fellow panelist Henrietta Spalding of Changing Faces as well. Despite the name she said her organisation are very concerned with bodies too, as is Sylvia Mac’s Love Disfigure.

As a model I know the places where I feel most comfortable posing – where general working conditions are positive including pay, model consideration when it comes to choice of pose, breaks, set-up (furnishings), heating, changing area… and where I enjoy a good relationship with the artists, and feel appreciated for who I am and my very real ability as a model. There are also places where I do not feel that the male gaze is influencing booking or working practice, and that makes a really positive difference to me. The atmosphere is wholesome and I can relax more. I know that such groups are only interested in drawing the best possible variety of talented models available, without exception. They are somehow neutral and unaffected by the male gaze, which is a healthy breath of fresh air. I don’t find myself thinking, “Soon this group will be bored of me and find me too old,” and I don’t feel a pressure to push myself beyond what is reasonably comfortable because of some unrealistic expectations by group members about what constitutes a decent pose. I often enjoy making challenging poses, but there are times when I can’t do them, or I just need to rest; and it’s always best if I decide when to do which poses.

There can be a lot of silent (or sometimes slightly vocalised) judgement about models’ bodies and the shapes they make. The attitude that some artists have that because they have paid money, they have a right to choose what the model looks like and does with her body, feels postcolonial, patriarchal. I am not averse to a discussion about making a pose, but I should always have the final say (and do). Me being vocal does cost me some jobs, because there are more compliant models out there, and that fits with a lot of ‘artists” agenda.

Such groups may seem driven by a male fantasy. There are models who may naturally fulfil that desire, or angle themselves towards it out of a need for income and because they can. In our super-consumerist culture, female objectification and self-objectification have become normalised from a very early age in girls. This sharp end of capitalism is responsible for a lot of problematic health conditions including eating disorders and low self-esteem, which studies have shown affects political efficacy. This means that women are readily rendered as mere objects to be consumed which amounts to the pornification of women’s bodies and contributes  subtley to the global condition of violence against women.  – Here I shall refer to the remarkable artivist (and life model) Lidia’s recent article on the subject of global violence against women.

There is the apparently unconscious sense of entitlement that some people feel about having some control over another person’s body – and that body being naked in front of them, and often of a person who depends on the income from modelling in order to make a living. This dynamic is the one we would like to raise awareness about and transform, because sometimes it is less obvious, just subtle, but nevertheless apparent. It passes for acceptable oftentimes because a tutor wants to please all class attendees for fear of losing them otherwise. Without pointing out individuals, I simply want to put this out there, to encourage greater awareness and capacity for embracing a truly empathic and body-kind, human-kind atmosphere of utter respect within the life drawing arena. I ought to add heartfelt gratitude to the artists who have always been leading the way when it comes to working with models in a positive exemplary fashion.

Sometimes groups do invite a variety of models, but it is the more glamorous and overtly sexy ones who dominate on social media, gaining the most likes, comments and shares. Which further drives the trend as artists vie for popularity and are encouraged in their choices (e.g. which models to book and images to post). While this may suit a bunch of men (and some women), there will be a considerable number of people who are negatively affected due to the comparison effect. Some will unfollow or opt out of particular platforms – or social media altogether. For others the effect may contribute to troubled feelings and behaviours. On the panel I shared that as a model myself I have stopped being so free with posting images of myself, since I noticed that I feel uncomfortable if I see too many images of other models of particularly mainstream beauty standards – and I do mean life models! I hardly consume any regular media channels so I am less exposed to fashion models and celebrities for example than many people. Perhaps that’s why I have a low threshold for consuming images of life models, although I would stress that I do mean online, not in real life as it were. Screen fatigue perhaps. I do not want to be part of the problem. I do not need extra attention for my appearance, nor do I want to feed negative comparisons in others.

What else can one do about this? Ask the organisers in question to be yet more varied when booking models. What if a greater balance of models is achieved and some members of a group leave? Nevermind; other more open-minded types may arrive. Model bookers could also do more to set the expectations of their groups, and certainly raise repeatedly the diversity of bodies in mainstream ‘recognised’ great art so that their group does not stick on the association of ‘nude means young slim female being looked at by men.’ They could discuss the role of artists in society, which is often about challenging cultural norms and raising uncomfortable topics, like ageing or flesh.

There are groups hidden from view, able to continue their old ways as no one involved wants change – neither the artists nor models. I only know because occasionally I have gotten a taste, but tend not to get favourited in such places being neither pretty, young or curvy enough, and also being too outspoken. Not everyone has this social conscience and other models enjoy the work, or need the money too much or worry about their right to live in the country post-Brexit, so effectively choose less freely. But where groups are visible and there is a chance of leverage, action may be taken.

Empowering Models?

Experiencing new confidence and being found attractive perhaps for the first time in their lives, happy to be sexualised, to have this relatively safe attention… can be empowering. But… when a model conforms to a male gaze fantasy in her pose, and she is staying still, there may be some objectification happening on at least two levels. I am suggesting that what happens on the micro level also affects the macro – the bigger picture. What we allow in our tiny London art scene may be sending a message of condoning the wider objectification of women (and people) globally. In other words – we are all connected, very much so now, and you might not be aware of it, but there is a growing underground trade of women and children’s bodies (also men, but for sex it’s mainly female).

The complicated thing is I am not saying it is wrong to express sexual empowerment through our poses; I think that to be a necessary part of some people’s evolution and to be celebrated. I certainly have and I haven’t felt that I was conforming to male fantasy necessarily at the time. What is important is that I was doing it for myself, because I was feeling it in that moment – it was me being true to myself. This opinion piece is simply urging greater diversity in representation of the human form as well as awareness about how the male gaze may affect us all.

Light entertainment on this theme; Fitness music video by Lizzo

Postcolonialism

Some models are from countries where there are fewer options and the patriarchy is more dominantly apparent. Female models of this type may find they are popular with upper middle class British artists. Typically a group of more well-to-do artists I work with, may ask me to introduce them to new models. I know now that they won’t appreciate it if I send them one of my more politicised model friends, who takes less care of her cosmetic appearance though is an outstanding model. They only want a certain prettiness and willingness to please in the ideally younger female. They prefer her to be foreign and preferably slightly darker skinned. A cute accent and enough education to be engaging, a background they can feel good about supporting, without such a sad story that it’s just too awful. The right amount of difficulty for them to patronise, foreignness to exoticise, also talent and good nature to adore, and generally not take them too far out of their old school days of the empire. Growing up in British colonies with servants is the kind of thing they know, and sometimes having a model, English or not, who observes and passes knowing comment on such matters is not what they want. Far better the grateful foreigner who knows only too well that going home may not be an option or that it would be undesirable, so it is in her best interests to accept all this ‘relatively’ well paid work and shut up.

Life Model Autonomy

On a more positive note and in favour of my many talented life model colleagues, it is refreshing to see so many groups being run by models themselves, whether they are teaching, organising or modelling, they are calling the shots and doing things on their own terms. This is a massive and wholesome development, allowing them to generate more income, develop or use different skills, exert more of their own creativity and most of all autonomy. The usual wage disparity between tutor and model may be evened out, and models themselves take an interest in the promotional side. It means that overall, regardless of what’s going on in colleges and art schools, UK life drawing is in an energised and healthy place, continually (re)engaging new people, making the papers and all forms of media. Some of the most creative and progressive events are emerging from this phenomenon and influencing what is happening elsewhere in schools and institutions. Spirited Bodies has of course been a considerable part of this and is the longest running such project if not the most frequent.

This piece was written by Esther Bunting, with some words and ideas contributed by Lidia, Marinella Mezzanotte and Lucy Saunders.

The Power of saying ‘No’

Spirited Bodies presents the next Stories of Women event, featuring co-founder Morimda, a professional life model of over 20 years experience. This will be held on Tuesday September 25th, 7pm – 9pm at The Feminist Library.

Morimda

 

From being an extremely shy person, it was through life modelling that Morimda emerged – found out who she was and was able to express that to other people.

by Julia Thompson

Morimda did not do well in school, so her parents tried to arrange a marriage for her when she was 16. This was when she first realised the power of saying ‘No’!

She was extremely shy, and living in Paris found herself in relationships but was unable to come out of her shell, and deep down she knew that the only way to properly emerge as herself, was to be alone, a single woman in order to find her own voice. She wanted to come to England and learn English, and pursuing this dream gave her the strength to say ‘No’ for the second time, to an episode of unfulfilling relationships in France.

In London working as a window dresser, she wanted to be a mannequin! That was when she hit upon the idea of becoming a life model. The futility of continually being sacked, basically because she was shy, pushed her to actively take on becoming a full time life model. Her 3rd ‘No’ was when she refused to keep looking for a more mainstream job.

by Ray Marwyck

She discovered how liberating it was to be nude, to own her body, and learnt through this profession the subtleties of her own boundaries more clearly. For the first time in her life, she stopped feeling ugly and like a failure for not fitting with conventions. Her confidence developed as she learnt how to manage herself as a business.

Modelling helped Morimda to cure her depression, as it allowed her to be herself, to accept herself, and in this way encouraged her innate inner joy to shine through again. Through the life model network she was introduced to Buddhism and chanting which is a strong focus in her life to this day.

She is very keen to empower other women about their bodies, nudity and sensuality, as she truly feels that modelling has given her so much in these regards. It helped her to be aware of the significance of posture, and how each of us have different shapes and forms to play with. She was inspired to come up with the idea for Spirited Bodies, whilst posing at the Mall Galleries in 2010 before sharing it with Esther & Lucy.

Life modelling and drawing are a really good way to address body image issues, as well as gaining confidence and broadening our experience by stepping out of our comfort zones.

At this Stories of Women event there is also the chance to try life modelling yourself, or you may come to draw and/or listen or join in the conversation. During the second half there is a discussion about the body politics of life modelling and related matters. There is guidance for new models – no experience necessary, and some drawing materials are provided – again no experience necessary.

For more information about this event and to buy tickets online, see here.

All the Spirited Nudes, in Edinburgh

FAO Esther: an email arrived from Scotland on 22nd July. All The Young Nudes wondered if I might be about in Edinburgh in August, to hold an event with them for the festival. We hadn’t been thinking of it but it was within the scope of my schedule and I didn’t hesitate to book it in. It had been 3 years since my last trip there, with Lucy and Thelma. We had done 3 events across Glasgow (with ATYN) and Edinburgh (with Edinburgh Drawing School at Marchmont St Giles parish church centre, and at Arts Complex, St Margaret’s House).

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At the end of the evening, Steve and I clearing away. Taken by a model

The event would be held at Studio 24, an alternative nightclub in the heart of the city, and a festival venue. Joanna, director of ATYN, reckoned we could comfortably fit about 10 models in the space. Last time we’d collaborated and I’d put a call out, just 3 models had come forward and all were professional. We had found first-timers for the church gig, but I considered that perhaps ATYN was more daunting at the time, for a newbie. The full-on music and nightclub atmosphere might not suit the more nervous types we were appealing to. It required a certain amount of confidence just to step up to that opportunity in the first place. In addition back then we weren’t so well known, especially in Scotland. It was the first time that such an occasion had been presented and the response was more tentative.

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Models in situ, all ready for their audience

By contrast, this time the people properly groomed by social media no doubt, were ready for us. I was inundated with interest from potential and professional models alike. In the interim years ATYN have expanded and not only operate in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also with regular weekly sessions in Dundee and Aberdeen. Joanna is furthermore preparing to export her brand of life drawing abroad to beyond the UK and even Europe, such is the popularity and accessibility of her unique set-up.

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All artworks & photos in this post are from the event on 23/08/’16 at Studio 24

It seems in many parts of the UK life drawing (and modelling) have expanded, gone mainstream; so it was lovely to feel the increased appetite and enthusiasm. It in fact felt greater than presently in London where ever more similar opportunities are available and there has possibly been a saturation.

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I quickly signed up 10 models – a good mixture of experienced and not, male and female. ATYN are famous for their music playlists and as I constructed a pose schedule including a couple of (now familiar to the scheme) movement poses, I liaised remotely with the music man. I remembered the wonderful eclecticism of the score last time, and while I wouldn’t attempt to unduly affect Pete’s choices, I was really keen to align the movement poses accordingly. A few days before the gig he sent over his Spotify setlist for our session and I spotted Clark’s Upward Evaporation; a suitably timed and ambient piece that lent itself perfectly to the seeds slowly growing into full bloom pose. Also catching my ear was Oneohtrix Point Never’s Ships Without Meaning, perfect for the models in a circle making a chain of movement pose. Just one moves very slowly at a time, until s/he touches the next, and hence the chain of movement.

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Models as seeds about to grow

Having emailed the models with extensive instructions and notes on what to expect, they were already well briefed and we easily got into our groove during the bonus hour before the event in which to practise. We physically ran through the tableaux and I outlined some practicalities. Despite a few last minute cast changes and at one point having a total of 12 models arranged, when the time actually came, there were as originally planned 10 models including my partner Steve. Steve wasn’t in all the poses particularly the shorter ones, rather helping me to photograph them, but he joined in 4.

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Steve joins in this scene of a Roman bacchanale

After a beautiful day climbing Arthur’s seat and the nearby hills, we arrived early and met Charli who was managing for ATYN, as well as Keira who was also involved. We set up a space against a brightly painted wall of the rectangular space, opposite the bar. There was strong (blinding) lighting directed on the model space, and a separate corner allocated for models’ belongings. The DJ booth was in another corner and Charli was happy to manage the music so that it was quiet when I needed to address models between poses, for the set-up and let the artists know the pose length.

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The first pose

I was really pleased with how smoothly everything ran, all the models working so well together (mostly strangers to each other) and good vibes all round. Here is the pose schedule as it finally flowed on the night (some poses were shorter than planned as the break was longer, and set-up each time had to be factored in too);

5 minutes dynamic pose with all models connecting just minimally
10 minutes models in a circle, chain of movement with one model slowly moving at a time until s/he touches the next
10 minutes models pose as if family or anyone from their lives who may be shocked to see them life modelling walks in (if there is no one to be shocked that’s fine too!)
15 minutes models create gangster poses, think Reservoir Dogs
15 minutes a scene of a Roman bacchanale
15 minutes break
5 minutes slow movement growing from a compact to an expansive pose
10 minutes scene of witches ceremony
25 minutes scene at the beach

 

Here are some more images from the session.

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Caught unexpectedly nude!
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Confident expressions
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Laidback
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Bewitched

And here is a little feedback from one of the models I want to share;

“So glad I got to take part in this and can’t thank you enough for the opportunity! Modelling together for the first time was definitely the best way, I as a new comer to life modelling could get inspiration of others and also connecting with people in such a vunerable setting is inspirational and phenomenal! The moving poses were one of my favourites both the short growing pose and the group connecting and moving with one touch was so unique and inspiring! I really hope to take this experience and use it as inspiration if I ever get another chance to do this again! Thank you again and hope to see you again!” Aimee.

So sweet, makes me feel very warm 🙂

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We look forward to taking Spirited Bodies to Scotland again sometime, as well as to other destinations. With gratitude for this beautiful calling.

Steve will also be documenting the event shortly on his blog, with quite a few more of the superb photos!

Sound, Movement & Drawing

On Saturday 23rd July there will be Sound, Movement & Life Drawing in New Cross, South East London; for women, as well as mixed. Follow link for details.

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I get really nervous about (life) drawing and it’s because I am uncomfortable doing things I am not confident at. I overly criticise my marks and that harsh voice in my head surely inhibits my ease of flow when I put marker to paper. It’s there before I have even started! Worrying how the drawing will look relative to how the model actually looks, and how other (better) artists fare in their efforts. I am especially anxious if the group is busy and/or there is likely to be a tutor peering over my shoulder telling me how it ought to work. I will freeze, ashamed of my attempts and be unable to take in their advice. I feel even more out of sorts considering I am so often on the other side, pulling the most contorted angles I can muster – yet can I cope with a talented model giving that right back to me?

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All drawings in this post by Kathy from several recent events

I exaggerate. I have been leading modelling and drawing workshops for long enough for my own advice to have penetrated my nervous system. Sometimes I relax and am unbothered by the outcome. It very much is about state of mind. Sometimes I even like what I produce.

I felt extra awful on occasion trying to draw my partner (who is a professional life model). I think I felt like I of all people ought to know his body and be able to capture it well, I mean I’ve looked at it long enough! But it doesn’t translate so easily, and most of all it takes practice, and worrying less!

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Kathy Dutton is going to lead the drawing side of things at our next workshops on 23rd July. Her style is very accessible to newcomers who don’t want to be bombarded with technical wizardry, but more gently guided towards expressing their reaction and interpretation of the unfolding tableaux. Having the confidence to draw is liberating, and confidence-enhancing, just as being able to pose nude can be.

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The modelling side of things has an emphasis on movement this time, as in very slow movement that allows us to respond more fluidly to Sarah Kent‘s soundwaves. Lewisham Arthouse is on a busy road and I have posed there many times. The sound of the traffic can be heavy, however with powerful gongs vibrating, and other more delicate sounds from Sarah’s collection, we will be transported elsewhere!

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Sarah sounding a singing bowl at Loving Bodies, St John’s Church

This is a 3 way collaboration where we each bring our unique talents. I am a life model who specialises in (slow) movement poses and many of my bookings are focused that way. I think it’s a facility I have always had, developed on dancefloors in my teens, and in drama studios later on. I will be guiding, within participants’ capabilities and inclinations, very much working with individuals’ intentions.

Models may take a turn at drawing, and artists may swap too, which is the best way to understand each others’ roles. There may even be a chance to try making some sounds, whether voice or borrowing Sarah’s instruments.

Poses are likely to last around 20 minutes and involve some slow movement, as well as stillness. Drawings may be collaborative, on large pieces of paper on the floor or wall as is Kathy’s way, and models will move together also, relating to one another more closely as the session evolves. Sometimes they may respond more to the sounds than each other.

The photographic images are from the Loving Bodies event we co-created in April. They were taken by Lidia (www.lidialidia.com)

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Sarah playing her flute

For more details of the workshops taking place on Saturday July 23rd, see here!

Circles of Women

Our recent women’s event was in a beautiful space at the Bargehouse (part of Oxo buildings, Southbank), well heated and well attended – with 5 models, and about 10 artists. Poses from 1 – 15 minutes, some with movement. We began dynamic and expansive, and perfected the art of very slowly opening up from an enclosed pose (3 and 5 minutes). In 3 minutes, they had moved so slowly, that when time was up, I found they had hardly opened at all! So I decided on a second round, longer to allow them to complete the movement.

All artwork from the women's session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15
All artwork from the women’s session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

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The artists sat in a circle, some drawing in sketch pads, others leaning a board on a chair in front, one or two with their own mini easels set up. Within this circle, the models had a sheeted and cushioned area in which they created their own circles from time to time as they posed.

In daylight before we began
In daylight before we began

We created 5 minute poses for each element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Beautiful ensembles with flames, blowing in the wind, waves, and the solidity of Earth.

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Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

There was a mix of experienced models including Ursula (a full time model and performance poet), and Claire (professional model, writer and feminist artist from the 80s, returning now with mastectomy), and Paula (relatively new). New models included an opera singer, who sang with Ursula in a sonorous pose; also another totally new model.

operatic notes on a page
operatic notes on a page

That was an impromtu inspiration as the singing model was clearly keen, and we have done that sort of thing before at A Human Orchestration a couple years back, so it felt enjoyable to revisit musical models. Really adds to their presence, and in this case, her voice was so powerful that the room shook. I’m not joking, and I wasn’t even next to her, touching her, so I can only imagine the vibrations in the inner circle. At least one artist was moved to tears, and several said they drew differently as touched by her tones.

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Artists familiar, as well as some from the drawing symposium (we were a part of the Southbank Festival of Creativity) made their marks.

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A real pleasure to return to my perhaps most passionate area of Spirited Bodies – the sacred women’s space! Though I don’t make much of any spiritual angle, keeping the session within life art/performance narrative, there is an extra element of care and consideration that is about feeling safe, to be all that we are. We are aware, as women together, some of us nude, that we could have body hang-ups, and maybe sometimes we do. But in that space, we are supporting each other to move past that, and enjoy the bodies we are in. We create solidarity, without judgement for ourselves or each other, embracing difference. And that is all that is needed, together with listening to each other, to make a very special warm, shared healing experience.

bending in the wind
bending in the wind

We don’t have to have been especially hung-up to benefit immensely; we all gain from the shared liberation, and witnessing each other being and blossoming. Creating a helpful, proactive, responsive community as well, as we connect more, building friendships. In the end, it is the love between us that grows our collective power, beauty, resonance and connection.

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There is space within poses for individuals to practise their own spirituality possibly. Over years of modelling, I believe I have learnt how to very quickly access a meditative state, it is second nature. I smile automatically when discomfort prevails, as doing this alters my mind state to strengthen me, minimising pain. What is more tricky is the muscles reminding me subsequently, that it was not such an easy pose I had fooled myself so well of!

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I also talk some of the time, during the session to point out how poses do or don’t work, to guide the models as well as instructing artists, in a different sort of life class! I played a bit of music too, but at the start, I instinctively wanted to let the silence take hold, bringing peace to all of us who had braced ourselves through the city to get there that evening.

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I love circles of women. Last night I danced to the full moon with sisters in a church in Vauxhall. I vary in how much I am feeling it each month, but yesterday was very serene. The DJ, Sarah Davies, gave a little talk on body language which felt very pertinent, it spoke to me. How we hold ourselves affects the way we feel, and vice versa. So we can use this to make ourselves feel stronger, even when we are not necessarily there yet emotionally, or mentally. Create bold, confident shapes with our bodies to empower ourselves.

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I have noticed over the years, that I had to let go of jobs where the artists were too proscriptive about poses, as if I am not in control of them, it can more likely damage my well-being emotionally (as well as physically).

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I love how the full moon women’s dance is run by a bunch of women, tending to be about 10 – 12 years my senior I reckon. They and many of the dancers, are yoga, dance, alternative healing practitioners and artists, so a lot of strong energy in the space, and quite a few run their own women’s spaces. The chairs are cleared from the space and I set to hoovering crumbs, leaves and dust off the massive carpet. It takes a goodly amount of time, especially as I am enjoying being inspired by my moves with the vacuum cleaner! About two thirds of the way through the task, the sound system has been erected, and music begins to fill the church. Housework gets me into my first dance.

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A pair of artists unravel and place items on an altar, immediately in front of the church’s own, which is behind decorated gates. After I have stocked up the toilets with paper, and put the moon pictures up, Sara hands me her palo santo to be burnt, and wafted about to cleanse or smudge the space.

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Low-lit by highly hung chandeliers, the whole church resonates to the ska, hiphop, dance, world, ambient and darkly gothic music. We are moving through waves, rhythms of our feminine expression, of lyrical, flowing, chaotic, staccato and still bodies. I get a lot from this group. I take my friends there, and gradually get to know some of the women I meet there. It is a source of shared knowledge and deeper friendships.

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For me, the instructions through the mic from the DJ about how to move (just suggestions), and what we may be feeling, are often jarring with my own inner journey. I am well habituated to getting into my groove. I discovered at 18 I think, on the dance floor at Slimelight among other venues, how to reach ecstacy through dance, and I wasn’t always on drugs believe it or not! It was a passion, and I knew movement (beyond the everyday) would always be part of my life. I trained in physical theatre at Rose Bruford drama school, in South East London in the early noughties. I wasn’t a great student, but I did appreciate the variety and intensity of some of the outlandish practitioners we immersed ourselves in.

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Still, I do appreciate how having an MC helps to bind the group at times, as well as nurturing some of those who may be newer to dance or being part of such a group. It’s lovely to be in a group that is run by women, repurposing the church of a monthly evening, a church which in fact lends itself to a number of new age groups. At one particular phase of the evening, all the women start howling into the air, for a long long time. So happy to hear their voices, and to be taking up space as Sarah wanted.

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Another women’s space I would like to bring your attention to, is run by Calu Lema, as part of her Naked Movement project. She describes her philosophy, background and intentions very well, and – Details of her next women’s (naked) space, are here.

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I have naturally often thought, how good it would be if the full moon dance was also naked! I wasn’t thinking that yesterday though. The heating was blasting, and we were moving fast some of the time, but it is a big space, so didn’t feel cosy for nudity. Not that that’s really an option here… even in Summer. I also appreciate how it would be highly unlikely that you would get that many women at a naked dance, sadly at the moment. It is very cool to be with so many women dancing though.

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My own next women’s event is on Sunday 13th December, at Tanner Street, close to Tower Bridge, from 11am – 1pm. For trying life modelling and/or drawing, with some gentle exercises to get comfortable with posing, as well as explore how the poses we choose may enhance ourselves and others. Nudity is optional. Naked, we may open up more to each other, face more of ourselves beneath the layers, and appreciate our natural beauty and body shapes. But it’s not for everyone. Artists are usually clothed, and sometimes, after a few years or so of coming to Spirited Bodies, artists pluck up the courage to bare all themselves!

a sea of bodies
a sea of bodies