Thursday, March 8, 2012

Human Body Project bares all for a cause: Column by Adrian Chamberlain in the Victoria Times Colonist

Human Body Project bares all for a cause
Times Colonist (Victoria)
Thu Mar 8 2012
Page: D8
Section: Life
Byline: Adrian Chamberlain
Column: Nudge Nudge
Source: Times Colonist

A young man, perhaps 19 years old, approaches me at the recent nude protest in Centennial Square. He's gnawing a waxy-looking slice of yellow pizza.

"Hey," he says. "What's goin' on?"

"Nude protest," I say.

"Really," he says, raising his eyebrows. He glances at protest leader Tasha Diamant, chatting to fellow participants.

"She must be one of those special teachers," he says after a moment's reflection.

I have no idea what this kid means. Diamant does look like a teacher, though. And in fact, she is one. As well as being a theatre artist, she's an instructor at Royal Roads University. Diamant, 50, is bespectacled, with cropped brown hair. Because there's a chill in the air, she wears a green toque and purple coat.

This is the second nude protest Diamant has organized in our city. She calls this the Human Body Project. It is to be a monthly event. The idea is that participants make themselves vulnerable by publicly disrobing. Although it's a protest, there's a performance art element, too.

The flyer she hands out reads: "Until humans viscerally understand vulnerability, we will not stop doing what we are doing to ourselves, other beings, and the planet."

Getting publicly naked, then, will help us to smarten up. Maybe we'll stop killing each other and polluting and stuff.

About half a dozen protesters have gathered. Diamant would like more.

"You wanna hold a sign?" she says to a passerby: a clean-cut, 20-ish man in a black overcoat. "You don't have to take your clothes off."

"I don't mind taking off my clothes," he says.

Wow. How obliging.

Participants gather under a giant sequoia tree in the square, still wreathed with strings of Christmas lights.

Centennial Square was recently host to another protest, Occupy Victoria. One of their tribe, perched in a tree, doused a city worker with urine. Happily, the Human Body Project folk don't look like the urine-dousing type. They all seem pretty cheerful.

In this group, only Diamant and four men disrobe completely. A couple of women go topless. Some wear all their clothing.

As nude protests go, this is a pretty polite affair. Each protester holds a largish sign, covering his or her naughty bits. Each sign contains a letter, drawn in black felt pen. The letters spell the word "vulnerable." That's why Diamant was soliciting participants, by the way. She needed enough to hold 10 letters.

"How do we look?" says Diamant to no one in particular. "Do we look OK?"

Most within hearing distance are media types with cameras. A couple of seedy-looking guys are furtively taking photos. I'm not sure how to respond to Diamant's question. Does she mean, how does our nakedness/semi-nakedness strike you? Or does she mean, are we holding our signs straight?

No one replies.

There's surprisingly little reaction to this protest. One long-haired, baseballcap-wearing dude passing by on the sidewalk holds up both hands and says: "OK!" A passing black SUV honks, moving a female protester to yell: "Woo-hoo!"

The gang reconfigures to create other words: "brave" and "real." Then, after 15 or 20 minutes, the clean-cut, formerly overcoated man - now a protester wearing only bike shorts - says: "What's the exit strategy?" The group moves backward, still holding their signs.

Then they get dressed.

"Thank you, everybody," Diamant says.

The next day, I phone to see how she'd thought it had gone. Diamant has mixed feelings. She says she was nervous. She likes that the clean-cut, overcoated man had joined on the spur of the moment.

It turns out a couple of citizens had phoned to complain. At the protest, after I left, a policeman took Diamant's name and birthdate. She refused to give her address.

What did the protest accomplish? Diamant says it doesn't really work like that. This protest is also an act of creation. It just - is.

Her monthly protests will continue through 2012. Those interested in participating can find updates on the Human Body Project page on Facebook.

Diamant says she hopes to raise the profile of her protests, perhaps infiltrating a "consumerist temple."

Maybe even the Bay Centre.

"I am thinking of doing stuff like that," she adds, sounding cheerful.

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