A parade of very colorful people — all shapes, sizes and genders — walked down Fifth Avenue wearing nothing but shoes and body paint, eliciting all the reactions you would imagine.
People gawking, tourists tripping over themselves to grab phone pics, parents pulling their kids away, pro photographers exercising their long lenses and the occasional bystander muttering, “What the f–k?”
“One year, someone called 911!” laughs Andy Golub, founder of Human Connection Arts, the non-profit organization that puts on the “Body Painting Day” every year.
“Ten years ago I was arrested for painting three women in Times Square,” he recalls. “I called Ron Kuby, the civil rights lawyer, and found out that nudity was legal in public during a performance.”
This year’s Body Painting Day in Union Square Park, with its theme of ‘Resilience,’ was indeed a group performance — a collaboration between artists and models that is transformative for all concerned. The models — around 45 of them this year — spend almost 4 hours being painted in public before strolling through the city.
Some of them have done it before; for others, it was their first time doing something as daring.
“The most common thing that I hear from models is how liberating it is,” mentions Tom Sebazco, Golub’s painting partner. “Some are doing it as a bucket list thing — just planning on a one-time experience — but end up coming back.”
Amy, who is participating for the fourth time, says that “the more you do it, the more it feels like you are part of a community.”
“I feel fine about walking through the street, it doesn’t feel sexual — it feels safe,” she remarks.
Another model, Rob Kaplan, did it for the first time as “a way to get out of my comfort zone. It feels empowering.”
“To me, it’s all about the things in life that are colorful and silly and fun,” Golub states. “There’s really no purpose in it other than to enrich our experience.”
But further conversation reveals that it goes deeper than that.
Reflecting on the effect of his project, he notes that “when people come in from out of town, they see NYC as a beacon of freedom and I’m proud to be part of that story.”
Further, he bemoans the fact that “the relationship of naked men and women can be adversarial. But the body is who we are and we are sending out a powerful message. Nudity in a non-sexual but loving way helps form a better relationship between men and women.”
“It seemed so natural,” noted Chelsea artist Judi Harvest, who had never observed the event before. “It was of the moment and really exuberant! I didn’t expect it to stay with me afterward.”
Sebazco, who barely had time to catch his breath, collaborated with Golub in painting 20 of the models. “We were really tired when it was over,” he said, “but it was a happy exhaustion. We all had big smiles – like we were the team that won the big game.”