Nude Prophets Old and New

In light of the upcoming release of The Prophet, an animated Hollywood version that tells the story of Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 classic, I’m happy to have found an original Nude Scribe piece from 2012 that I thought I had lost during a site reformatting. So here is the post, like a blast from the past. It highlights Gibran’s references to nudity in his writing as well as in his illustrations, and describes a very unique adaptation of The Prophet staged by a naturist theater group in Brazil.

One of Gibran’s original illustrations for The Prophet

Nudity is often a powerful metaphor for truth. It is not the only such metaphorical relationship that nudity evokes, but it is certainly one of the strongest. Sometimes nudity is truth’s literal manifestation, sometimes it is only its metaphor; but in either case nudity can lend the power of truth to what may be said by a nude speaker. 

This is especially the case when the nude speaker is a prophet, even though he may be derided as a lunatic in his textile society. In the Old Testament, for example, the prophet Isaiah wandered unclad and unshod for three years and was ignored or ridiculed by his people.

Almustafa is the protagonist of The Prophet (1923), a brief book of prose poems by early twentieth-century Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran. In contrast to Isaiah, Almustafa doesn’t prophesy nude nor wander through the wilderness without clothing. But he speaks often and favorably of nudity – both literal nudity and metaphorical nudity. From the section of The Prophet called “Freedom,” here is an example of the metaphorical use of the term “naked”:
You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,
But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.” (47-48)
Rising above your problems “naked and unbound” can obviously have a literal meaning, too, especially if you are a nudist! The following two examples, from the section called “Laws,” have meanings that can hover between metaphorical and literal nudity, depending on context:
On hypocrisy and laws made to be broken: “What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all others naked and shameless?“(45)
On escaping from the tyrannical use of law: “And who is he that shall bring you to judgment if you tear off your garment yet leave it in no man’s path?” (46)
In the naturist community, Gibran’s most-loved lines come from the section on “Clothes.” In this section, quoted in full below, even though the word “naked” is not mentioned (“bare” is), it is easy to understand that the prophet is speaking quite literally about the desirability of going naked:
And the weaver said, Speak to us of Clothes.
And he answered:
Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Some of you say, ‘It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear.’
And I say, Ay, it was the north wind,
But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.
And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.
And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” (35-36)
These verses have a history of devotion in the naturist community because on the one hand they so unequivocally reject societal needs, such as modesty, that are constructed around clothing, while on the other hand they so joyfully present the wholesome freedom of natural nudity. In his writings in general, Gibran treats nudity as a desired state in which to live, a state closer to the natural harmony of the world. And of course, the author makes this case not just in words but also in a dozen nude images, drawn by his own hand (examples above and below). The Prophet is another resounding triumph for the inclusion of naturism as part of a profoundly philosophical worldview. For many people of a certain age The Prophet is nothing new, but if you have not yet read it, you should. It’s a terrific and quick read.
From left: Illustration from The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran), Photograph by Jorge Bandeira from Nuances
The recent performance of Gibran’s work that I want to feature here was staged by Jorge Bandeira, a Brazilian activist, actor, playwright and director, and founder of the naturist group GRAUNA (Grupo Amazónico União Naturista). Bandeira designed a performance event called Nuances based on The Prophet and some of Gibran’s other work. The title Nuances holds the same meaning in Portuguese as it does in English, with the added effect that the initial letters of the word “nuances” mean “nude” (“nu” is the masculine form, “nua” the feminine). The performance took place over two nights in 2010 in Manaus, capital of Amazonas state, Brazil, and was designed and produced by Bandeira along with the Coletivo Artístico Graúna (members of GRAUNA).  
The Nuances “happening” included a gallery of Gibran’s poems and illustrations alongside a series of nudes, photographed by Bandeira and also Macarena Mairata, that imitate or elaborate on Gibran’s illustrations (see side-by-side example above). Attendees to the event watched a live performance featuring five nude actors who interpreted scenes from the photographs and from Gibran’s drawings while also taking turns reading Gibran’s poems. Because they were moving around in front of a screen showing slides of the various illustrations by Gibran, Mairata, and Bandeira, the actors’ bodies also became screens (see example below).
The Nuances event embodied a holistic relationship with nature, literally as well as metaphorically, just like Gibran’s main messages in The Prophet.
Image from Nuances performance, photo by Jorge Bandeira
The gallery of images became a traveling exhibit that was set up in other locations in Brazil. Bandeira continues to be a naturist activist through theater, poetry, and the group GRAUNA. (I featured a text of his in an earlier post on the Brazilian naturist pioneer Dora Vivacqua.)
Gibran, Bandeira: Prophets and pioneers both, honored speakers and presenters of the naked truth.
Here is the trailer for the new The Prophet, to be released in the US in August. Will it contain Gibran’s original language regarding clothing and nudity? To be determined…

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