I’ve recently finished an exploration of the use of nakedness to deepen spiritual experience for a forthcoming book. In it I look at its use in Classical Paganism, Wicca, Druidry, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity.
Now I’m working on the next chapter which explores its use as a political tool – as a vehicle for protest and awareness-raising. As I researched this topic I came across a project which articulates wonderfully the way in which nakedness can be used to make a statement about our need to care for Mother Earth. Nudity is used so much nowadays in a titillating or seedy way, it is heartening to see that it can be used with integrity to convey aesthetic and spiritual values. Have a look at some photographs from the project first (courtesy of photographer Jack Gescheidt), which is followed by the text I wrote on it for the chapter, which includes a link to the TreeSpirit Project site.
Stripping the body in public as a way of gaining attention and making a statement is clearly suited to the defence of rights in general – not simply those of animals. One of the most creative uses of nudity to raise awareness comes from the work of the American photographer Jack Gescheidt who started the ‘TreeSpirit Project’ in 2003. Rather than protesting against logging or destruction of the environment, Gescheidt’s project seeks to enhance our appreciation of trees in the belief that the more people are able to do this, the less destructive they will be: ‘I believe as more people understand the importance of trees for all they provide the ecosystem in addition to beauty and shade, all species on Earth benefit. The fates of species are intertwined; we have the power to destroy other life forms, and without other life forms humanity will perish. We humans may only be here for a brief stay in the cosmic picture, but we have the tremendous power of free will to shape our world. Many of us in technologically advanced cultures have forgotten the ancient wisdom trees and other life forms patiently hold.’
The TreeSpirit project includes two elements: the photographs Gescheidt takes of naked people in, beside and around trees, which are then displayed on his website (www.treespiritproject.com) and the experiences of the participants when being photographed in this way. In response to the frequently asked question: ‘Why are the people you photograph always naked? Isn’t this really just to get attention?’ Gescheidt responds: ‘When naked, people are: more ‘present’ in the meditative sense of this word, meaning in the present moment instead of thinking about the past (worry) or future (planning); therefore more vulnerable and have greater, more conscious awareness, more feeling, and therefore move and behave more freely and genuinely; more harmless to trees and other species. We humans often harm as a collective, but not when stripped of our habitual and protective layers of clothing, tools and technology; more timeless, without the many cultural and historical cues clothing provide; unified as a mass of humanity rather than seen as the individual personalities to which we are so attached; and, yes, more attention-getting. One of goals of the TreeSpirit Project is to deliver its message of our interdependence with nature. The more people ready to take this to heart, the better.’