COMMENTARY: Differentiating between Nude and Lewd

Painting from author’s series “Daughters of the Caribbean Sun”

A century ago the American artist Robert Henri wrote:
“There is nothing in all the world more beautiful than the nude human body. It is not only among artists, but among all people, that a greater appreciation and respect for the human body should develop. When we respect the nude we will no longer have any shame about it.”

In the Caribbean, carnival is culture and culture, at least here in Dominica, is classified as art. I question that last linkage, but let’s leave it be, for it gives me a slender qualification to say what I have to say on the subject of this commentary.

As an artist I have spent a lifetime depicting the beauty of the nude, and in particular, the beauty of the Afro-Caribbean female nude. From that perspective, let me try to differentiate between nude and lewd.

In the early 1980’s, I began the paintings and sculptures in my series, “Daughters of the Caribbean Sun”. My mission was to extol the beauty of the Afro-Caribbean woman, unadorned by foreign influences. To achieve my objective I had to go beyond Marcus Garvey’s plea to “take the kinks out of your mind, not out of your hair”.

The nude figure is less sexually provocative than one that is scantily dressed. After the initial shock of the nude, the eye takes in the beauty of the body as a whole rather than being drawn to the parts tantalisingly hidden in the name of decency. I know that this is something that many people have difficulty getting their head around, but it is a fact. If I wanted my models to look sexy, I’d put them in a bikini and have them pose seductively, hand on hip.

This is where sexual lewdness corrupts an otherwise innocent picture. But differentiating one from the other can be a delicate balancing act. And this applies not only to the artist and model; carnival participants are also vulnerable to misjudgment.

Let me make it clear, I am not advocating that we revert to a state of nudity but that we do not succumb to an overload of missionary zeal. After all, we are supposed to be the Nature Island of the Caribbean and what could be more natural than ourselves? A comment in my visitors’ book from a Carnival Queen contender reads: You have opened my eyes and mind to true beauty.

Incidentally, age need not destroy beauty. A profound nude by the French sculptor Rodin portrays a woman in her eighties.

My subjects are not professional models. They come from all walks of life, from college graduates with a Ph.D. to market vendors. What they have in common is an understanding of what I am trying to portray. Without exception they have all found the experience liberating and uplifting. It is the model’s task to inspire and they are proud of their contribution to the creative process.

Before I begin a painting, or when instructing a life class, I cite the words of advice given by a past master of the figure:

“Take the shoes from off thy feet, for the ground you are about to step upon is Holy Ground”.

Perhaps it behooves us all to heed those words.

Readers can find more paintings and sculptures in the series,Daughers of the Caribbean Sun, together with work in progress at:

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  1. analy thomas
    January 30, 2018

    one more thing! “Take the shoes from off thy feet, for the ground you are about to step upon is Holy Ground” is nothing else but mocking the father, God of Gods on His order to Moses! This is demonic and you need to stop it now!
    These demons know their fate of eternal hell fire but as long as we have life, we have a chance of salvation.
    Be wise! Money, society and man cannot be God!

    • out of south city
      January 30, 2018

      Oh boy!! Here we go again with this religious foolishness. The artist explained nudity from lewdness. He also quoted the Great brother, Marcus Garvey; “take the kinks out of your mind, not out of your hair.” Do you understand the difference between nudity and lewdness? Read the commentary again without your religious eyes and mind. Why are we being so hypocritical when someone describes the beauty of the black woman? Black women have the curves and that’s why some other races go to the length of performing plastic surgery just to be like the black woman. You should not be ashamed of who you truly are. There is a brother who said, “stand in front of the mirror and don’t move until you love what you see.”
      I understand where the artist is coming from and I applaud him for his great work of art. That’s also the brilliance of the African mind.
      We need to support each other and stop letting what has been written in a book by those who enslaved our fore-parents be our “Daily…

      • analy thomas
        January 31, 2018

        You call my belief in the creator as religious foolishness but you believe in ancient African tradition. They too had gods… do you believe in their god? Or do you believe in your own god? I have personal experience that the God whom i serve is the God of Heaven, Earth and everything below and it is my obligation to let others know of His love for them.
        You know, moving forward many will lose their lives mainly because of deception. This is what makes it difficult. And the fact that you have disclaimed the very existence of God is already deception.
        Read your comments on the physical beauty of the flesh. Do we care for the flesh or the soul? Think about it…. When you are well inside, you will also be well outwardly.
        You take your mirror and look at your body if you like, but i will take mine to examine my actions and lifestyle, to help others, and believe in someone bigger than me.
        My strength comes from the Lord and i challenge you read His word.

      • Roger Burnett
        January 31, 2018

        Thank you “out of south city” for expressing the feelings of what I believe to be a silent and timid majority, as indeed the sparsity of comments to my commentary bear witness.

        As a result, the nude remains secret and shameful, with untold social harm.

        These lines from the poet Robert Service are fitting:

        They have cradled you in custom,
        They have primed you with their preaching,
        They have soaked you in convention, through and through…

  2. analy thomas
    January 30, 2018

    “Take the shoes from off thy feet, for the ground you are about to step upon is Holy Ground” This is where many including the educated will disagree with me but I, also sharing the degree qualification will reiterate that there is a huge difference between politically correct and knowing the truth! The truth is Jesus Christ!
    If i asked you if you believed in Jesus……. even the devils believe and tremble!
    Are you glorifying God in your presentation? Are you trying to justify overt physical nakedness?
    I will be hated but i will not remain silent! In fact, it will please me to warn others to guard against this kind of doctrine! Sometimes education turns us into fools!
    The bible clearly says that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit! I believe it because the bible has never been proven wrong! Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

    • analy thomas
      January 30, 2018

      I openly stand against anything which is against the word of God. People don’t have to like it or listen because it is their choice, however, it is my responsibility to remind us to preserve our bodies to the living God.
      Please people read your bibles… everything from creation to the coming of Christ can be found there. I am warning you! Jesus is as real as you see yourself!
      whatever seed you sow here will determine the plant which will grow in your eternity.
      Hate me for telling you off but the truth will one day be revealed!
      Glory to God!

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