Clothed with Nature

The indigenous populations of the Americas have long been a source of inspiration for natural associations to nudity, such as the work of Javier Silva Meinel. A photographer from Lima, Peru (b. 1949), Silva Meinel studied both economics and photography and won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work on Andean rituals. He has also photographed and published on bullfighting in Lima, and on the human ecology of his country’s swath of the Amazon rainforest. He has held solo showings in the US and Europe and exhibited widely in Latin America.

Photograph by Javier Silva Meinel

I find his black-and-white nude portraits enchanting, because although they are rather obviously posed and thus artificial, they are still very natural in their incorporation of fish, snakes, trees, and other elements of the environment. Nature is literally draped on and around the nude subjects. His Anaconda II deliberately mixes the staging of a backdropped photoshoot with the staging of the Amazon rainforest itself. Perhaps not as deliberately, the image even references one of the most famous photos of Brazil’s naturist pioneer, Luz del Fuego, posing with her serpent. Bordering this text are two more examples from Silva Meinel’s work that explore the masculine and the feminine, the burden and the adornment.

Photograph by Javier Silva Meinel

Silva Meinel’s photographed subjects should not be mistaken, necessarily, for naturists, or for clothes-shunning indigenous people. As participants in the set-up of the shoot, the subjects in his work are very conscious of their roles in producing images. Yet the nature (in many senses) of his work reminds me of a text I read in Portuguese and reproduce here below in English: “Natupári” (I Reject), the speech of an indigenous leader from the Madeira River basin in the southern Amazon region of Brazil. He is speaking to a modern outsider, perhaps upon first contact with “modern civilization,” which for his people, the Parintintin, did not happen until the 1940s:

I Reject!

We don’t have this thing you call clothes. We have skin, which doesn’t need to be undressed.

Your clothes don’t protect you from the jaguar, which finds us by our smell. Clothes have an odor that the jaguar likes. The jaguar can find us quickly, that’s why the jaguar catches and eats many of you.

The skin of the Parintintin gets washed and does not stink, that’s why what we wear is only the body paint that adorns our women and the warpaint that scares our tribe’s enemies.
If clothes were good, then the animals of the forest would want them, but they don’t like them either. They get all agitated if you try to put anything on them. The Parintintin likes to run free, but clothes make him fall down right on the ground.

We don’t want to trade the feather adornments we make for our heads, in exchange for those clothes you are bringing for us to use. A machete is much more useful than clothes for the tribe. The best thing for covering our bodies is sunshine, and also macaw feathers.

With clothes the Parintintin becomes different from the tribe, some other thing, very strange. We’re going to send all this stuff down the river, here in the tribe it’s no good to us. These shoes make our feet hurt. The navel of the tribe is the entire body, and it needs to breathe without clothes covering it. The day a Parintintin wants clothes, he will no longer be a Parintintin.

There are some terrific slogans here about being clothed with nature: “The best thing for covering our bodies is sunshine.” “The navel of the tribe is the entire body, and it needs to breathe without clothes covering it.” These are ideas that support Rousseau’s assertions about natural humanity, which in turn helped shape modern naturism in early twentieth-century Germany.

Back to Nature. Forward to Naturism!

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