Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vulnerability on Display, by Michel Ghanem (reposted from The Martlet, October 30, 2014)

This article, Vulnerability on Display, was The Martlet's cover story on October 30, 2014.

Written by Michel Ghanem, photo by Nikki Koutsochilis.

Once a month since January 2012, Human Body Project creator Tasha Diamant stands nude outdoors in Victoria to bring awareness to ideas surrounding vulnerability. She held her 39th vigil on Oct. 24. The 53-year-old is a mother and teaches at Royal Roads University.

“I just thought [that] it seems very weird to me that we’re all such vulnerable people and we don’t really acknowledge it or deal with it,” Diamant said. “It came from a place of feeling really vulnerable and [being] in a lot of emotional pain.”

Since she was 12 years old, Diamant has dealt with emotional pain of her own. As she went through a divorce, she used the vulnerability she felt to start the project. “The spectrum of reaction I get is from ‘you’re a fucking crazy lady’ to ‘Oh my God, you’re a saint,’” she said.

She began the Human Body Project in “conservative” Lethbridge, Alberta, and used nude Fringe Festival performances as a platform for her ideas, despite not gaining a monetary profit from her shows. “I show up naked and unscripted to share vulnerability and create space for vulnerability. It’s really challenging for me and the audience; who knows what’s going to happen?” Her show invites the audience to undress and often join her on stage.

Nudists in the audience debated if she could be considered a nudist, she said. “I don’t really consider myself a nudist, but I feel like I need to be naked so that I can be as vulnerable as possible,” she said. “If I want to talk about how we need to face and deal with vulnerability, it’s not enough to talk about it. I have to do it.”

#VulnerabilityVigil on October 24, 2014. Martlet photo by Nikki Koutsochilis.
When she began her monthly vigils, she brought a public visibility to her vulnerability. She does not consider the performance particularly enjoyable, often feeling sick the day before a vigil. “My work is not embraced,” she said.

The banners she holds in front of her are key to understanding her message. In the past, Diamant has used the words holy, systemic, compliant, and is currently using the symbol of extinction.

“Here we are, the North Pole is melting, California is drying up, and we just act like everything is normal,” she said. “I don’t get that. I guess people are thinking about it? But it’s invisible somehow.”

She cites artist demonstrators Marina Abramovic and David Blaine as inspiration. “Those people, their platform emerged from their work, and for whatever reason—[maybe because] I’m a Canadian and the age I am—I have not found that group of like-minded individuals, probably because I’m not from New York. I’ve come from smaller, more provincial places.” As a mother who is surrounded by a white, middle-class population, she has not found a receptive local audience to create space for discussion. She often performs the vigils alone, with only her husband standing in support. “I find [the lack of reception] desperately awful.”

Diamant finds solace in reading Michael Kimmel’s published academic work, who is “an authoritative, intellectual, academic male voice who is very pro-feminist,” she said. Kimmel’s work focuses on exploring how masculinity is invisible in our culture.

According to Diamant, her nude appearances is about showing the public what is often invisible “which is even just an older woman who is not allowed to exist anymore,” she said. “I’m 53 so I don’t feel like my body is very beautiful.”

She connects her work to invisibility on mental health and sexuality. “We relegate so many types of people and ways of being in this culture that don’t work in some ways with the dominant narrative.”

Despite near arrests and misunderstandings, she perseveres. “It’s both liberating and painful, and difficult and challenging. I feel scared about doing it,” she said. “I’m protesting my own culture, but it’s really hard for people to understand what that means.”

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