The Global Nude
Almagul Menlibaeva, Apa, 2003, Still from video, duration: 9:47
Owing to their colonial history, Egypt and Lebanon have a historic relationship with European art movements, especially Surrealism. They traditionally featured nudes in their modernist periods; then contemporary artists followed in their footsteps.
Central Asia, which, by contrast, has its own unique practice of Islam, and is experiencing a renaissance as it emerges from Soviet influence, has also spawned artists who incorporate the body into their work. Among the most notable are Almagul Menlibayeva, whose video Apa (2003) shows nude women dancing through snowy mounds in a 21st-century vision of earth mothers, and Erbossyn Meldibekov, who sits naked in his video Pastan (2001), as he is continually slapped by a clothed aggressor in an allusion to his native Kazakhstan’s relationship with the former Soviet Union. “It is not like the nude is a central focus,” says independent curator Leeza Ahmady, “but like in China in the 1990s, artists have begun experimenting in Central Asia in recent years, and the body became a very natural place to start.”
In fact, China exemplifies a revolution in regard to nudity in art, in spite of government censorship and strict control of images deemed pornographic. “Things have relaxed,” says art historian and curator Britta Erickson, “but still, about ten years ago the government reaffirmed a ban on performances in the nude.” She adds, “It also is different for men and for women. Somehow Chinese art society accepts male artists baring themselves, but not female artists.” Erickson notes, “There is no similar taboo or censorship of representations of the nude, so long as sexual activity is not depicted.”
Nikoo Haji Tarkhani, This Is Not A Woman Series #4, 2008