The nude female body is one of the most ancient, enduring, and controversial motifs in art. From early prehistoric figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf to Praxiteles’ Knidian Aphrodite statue, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and Manet’s Olympia, art depicting naked women has served not only as a vehicle for artistic expression but also as a reflection of society’s attitudes toward women for thousands of years. Indicatively, the reflections in that mirror have not always been nice and frequently expose long-standing prejudices with which communities throughout the world continue to struggle.
The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by the Italian Early Renaissance artist Masaccio is a prominent illustration of this. The picture depicts the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s shame-themed departure from Eden, with the couple in a state of misery as an angel leads them away from paradise’s gates. Adam’s face is concealed by his hands, exposing his genitalia, while Eve covers her body with both arms.
“The focus on Eve rather than on Adam as the locus of sexuality was reinforced by the persistent view that women were inherently more concupiscent than men,” observed James Clifton, curator of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas in a 1999 essay for Art History. “Masaccio’s image similarly maintains the association of shame and nakedness (and, by extension, sexuality) in the figure of Eve only […] In Eve’s gestures covering her breasts and genitalia, Masaccio identifies her sexuality as the site of her sin and shame.”
Nude Neighborhood and the nude art scene on the Web3
The Web3 sector witnessed a meteoric increase in interest and engagement in nude art beginning in the spring of 2022. Artists such as Nude Yoga Girl, Ayla El-Moussa, Megan Batson, and Anita Sadowska, who had already established themselves as creative forces on YouTube and Instagram despite the difficulty of promoting their work on those platforms, have been at the forefront of this expansion. These artists are leveraging Web3 tools to help destigmatize women’s bodies, so making the world a safer, more accepting, and more understanding place for women.
In July, when community leaders Nude Yoga Girl and Ayla El-Moussa established Nude Neighborhood, enthusiasm for the Web3 nude art community was at its peak. Nude Neighborhood is a virtual building and curated gallery area that displays the NFT artwork of various nudist artists. The structure is located within OM, a gigantic metaverse city that decentralization icon Punk6529 and metaverse constructor Oncyber built in April in partnership. Nude Neighborhood Curated is a gallery dedicated to displaying unsold NFT artwork from the Web3 nude art community.
“In Nude Neighbourhood and the nude art community in general, [the artists] have become very close,” Nude Yoga Girl said. “Even though we didn’t know each other so well at first, we knew we all shared the same kind of experiences online. It’s a very challenging environment for nude artists with all the censorship rules on the biggest social media platforms. Bringing everyone together in a space without the problems we face on social media felt great. [It’s a] place where nude art is appreciated and bodies are not deemed offensive.”
How Web2 restriction hinders the creation of nude art
Web2 platforms and nudity have a problematic connection. In an understandable effort to prevent kids from viewing content they definitely shouldn’t, sites such as Instagram and even Web3-friendly Twitter, which allows users to post nude images in tweets but not in profile banners, are harsh with artists who create nude works. They accomplish this by either shadowbanning them (making their postings invisible without their awareness, thus reducing their growth) or removing their content entirely, suspending and banning their accounts, or shadowbanning them.
The problem is so pervasive that the Web3 nude art community views the discussion surrounding Web2 censorship as somewhat mundane at this point, knowing that it is simply the nature of the beast while fighting it at every turn.
“[Censorship] is definitely a big challenge, especially now because I shoot mostly nude,” said photographer Anita Sadowska. “In reality, [my work] doesn’t see the light of day other than on Twitter, because if I post them on Instagram, they’re just going to remove it or have me shadowbanned.”
The freedom and affluence that Web3 has afforded nudist artists can be a double-edged sword. The more successful these artists are with their naked NFT work, the more inclined they are to promote it on the accessible channels. However, as they do so, these platforms penalize them more and more. The subsequent disappointments are intense.
“I built a following on Instagram over the last few years and put a lot of work into that,” explained photographer Megan Batson. “And I feel like my follower count is declining because I’m posting more nude work. They’re shadowbanning things, so the engagement is going down.”
Megan and artists like her have learned to operate within those boundaries. The potential upshot to this situation is that, while censorship is often discouraging, it can also set up constraints that artists have to engage with creatively, making them reflect on the ideas that go into their work.
“I’m very aware of what [Web2] platforms will censor,” visual artist Ayla El-Moussa said. “What is interesting with censorship on social media is the constraints have actually allowed me to explore greater ideas because I had to work within that ‘Let’s make sure this doesn’t get censored’ framework. But I know the struggle is real because I have to think twice. Should I post that? Is this going to get flagged? It’s not free-flowing creativity or display.”
Despite this less-than-ideal circumstance, Nude Yoga Girl is enthusiastic about the possibility of Web3 overturning this censoring dynamic and is determined to work towards this goal.
“Nude artists are the ones who have suffered the most in Web2,” Nude Yoga Girl emphasized. “There is nothing more frustrating than the feeling of not being allowed to express yourself freely after a lot of hard work to create something. I really hope Web3 will change that, and I’m ready to fight for those changes. But it will take time.”
Developing and interpreting nude artwork
Sexuality and art displaying naked women’s bodies can have a murky and complex relationship. On the one hand, it may be argued that the work of Nude Yoga Girl, Ayla El-Moussa, Anita Sadowska, and Megan Batson is intrinsically sexual due to the subject matter. On the other hand, society has a very destructive practice of reducing women to sexual beings whose worth is directly proportional to how well they conform to a simplistic and commercialized caricature of themselves. The boundary between the liberating ownership of one’s natural physical form and the demeaning objectification of that body is not always clear, even for the Nude Neighborhood’s artists.
“I think that people are going to view art how they want to view art,” observed Batson. “If that is sexual, it’s okay. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the natural feelings we have inside of us. However, I do think projecting your sexual desires publicly on a piece of art is a little weird. We see a lot of that on Twitter, and I think that makes women feel unsafe and uncomfortable. It’s okay that it’s sexual, but I think that there’s a certain respect that people should have for the female body in any circumstance, whether it’s in real life or about a piece of art. Not degrading her down into just a sexual being.”
This dynamic is extremely difficult to negotiate. The artist-audience interaction has always been a two-way street, and the gap between artistic intent and reception is likely to remain a point of contention.
Audiences have both the right and the obligation to interpret a work in their own way, similar to Roland Barthes’ literary “death of the author” theory, in which he fought for the freedom of written work from authorial intention and control.
The main distinction between using this method to literature and to nude photography of women is that the latter is at the core of vital conversations about how patriarchal societies choose to deny or embrace women’s rights. The balance is difficult to achieve: authors must allow for artistic interpretation flexibility. Additionally, audiences must be able to recognize the real-world implications of vulgar interpretations of nude artwork.
“When it comes to the human body in general, there’s always going to be some level of sexuality attached to it,” Sadowska conceded. “We’re only human. But there are certain people who see nothing but the visual of the female body. They don’t really get into the lighting or the pose or the meaning behind anything. Which is fine. I think there’s space for everything. In my images, I want my subjects to feel powerful, and to feel like [they’re] in control. Obviously, the women that I take photos of are really attractive and I would like to present their bodies in the most beautiful way. So, I realize there is going to be some sexualizing going on. But I would like to think that people see more than just the physical appearance of my model.”
In contrast, El-Moussa advises both makers and audiences to keep in mind that visceral responses to sexuality and nudity might be detrimental to the nude art scene. As she and Nude Yoga Girl continue to supervise the growth of Nude Neighborhood, El-Moussa strives to maintain an open mind towards what nude artists are attempting to achieve, even if it is explicitly sexual.
“There’s a fine line between taboo and certain extremes, El-Moussa said of the sexuality discussion. “Where does the line go? I think Nude Yoga Girl and I are really trying to balance that in a way that everyone can feel comfortable, even if the art is extreme. We have a few artists [in Nude Neighborhood] who really toggle the line of sexual art and nude art, but they’re able to back up their ‘why’ and I think that allows collectors and everyone to exhale and see that it’s ok.”
Nude Yoga Girl, who began putting her work online in 2015, stated that the reception to her and others’ work has improved marginally since then, despite the fact that it remains largely uncontroversial to many.
“Nudity divides a lot of people, said Nude Yoga Girl. “I receive criticism now and again. Having a large social media following worldwide can also be challenging in many ways. But I’ve learned to ignore the haters. I stand 100 percent behind what I create, and I’m very happy about it. Our bodies are natural, not offensive. Nudity is our most natural state. You can’t make a difference by trying to please everyone.”
Liberating the bodies of women from centuries-old stigmas and taboos
The largest impact the Web3 nude art community continues to offer to society is aiding in the eradication of the stigma associated with women’s physical honesty. And while the ever-expanding community does an excellent job at this, there is space for improvement. Extending the inclusiveness of its purpose to de-stigmatize women’s bodies in order to better represent women of all body kinds and skin tones is essential for ensuring its future growth, viability, and validity. Normalizing women’s bodies is an admirable goal, but the space must ensure that it is not overly focused on normalizing any particular sort of body.
These are all means to the same aim, which is the right of women to live a free, dignified, and equitable life. Not all ideas are created equal, and it is essential to challenge the dogmas and traditions that contradict or outright deny women this right, regardless of their origin. The proliferation of nude art within the NFT group in recent months directly confronts a variety of outmoded customs and taboos simply by existing.
It pushes society to engage in painful but constructive dialogues about which values we choose to uphold and which we wish to abandon.
“I definitely think [these taboos have] to do with how we were brought up in society in general,” Sadowska said. “Especially when religion comes into play. I feel like there’s a lot of shame around sexuality, sex, and nudity.”
Sadowska, recalling her recent vacation to Hawaii’s Big Island, when she saw a nude beach for the first time, remarked on the nonchalant and relaxed character of the locals. The visit provided her with a radically different perspective on nudity than the one she was reared with.
“It was awesome to see this community of people who are just naked with their babies,” Sadowska recalled. “There are entire families on the beach just running around. There are older people, there are younger people. Being exposed to nudity in such a positive way takes the stigma away. And even when it came to my own body, I was very aware of how I was dressing and how I looked. And as I grew older, and especially as I started taking photos of nude models, I thought, ‘Why am I ashamed of this?’ Everybody has a body — why do we put so much shame into it?”
In the past 50 years alone, this question and its ramifications have filled innumerable library stacks to capacity. It is not an issue that will be resolved anytime soon. Nonetheless, nude art serves to educate individuals that shame is a bad clothing for any natural body and that physical autonomy is sacred.
“For centuries, women have been oppressed,” said Batson. “And women still aren’t able to make decisions about their bodies, about how they want to dress, what they want to put out on the internet. Anything that women do, we’re harshly criticized and judged for. The female form is so stigmatized. I think it’s beautiful and a work of art. And I think that the more people that are exposed to that side of things, the less violence and aggression there is in the world.”