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Naked And At Peace, Public Art As Cure For Troubled Colombia

Some 6,000 people gathered in Bogota for artist Spencer Tunik's latest outdoor photo shoot. The clothes-free event was a stunning splash of hope for a country torn for so long.

Preparing for the Spencer Tunick nude event in Bogota
Preparing for the Spencer Tunick nude event in Bogota
*Luis Eduardo Leiva Romero

-Essay-

BOGOTA â€" There was something different about Bogota that morning, and not just because of how unusually comfortable people felt, despite the frosty, pre-dawn wind blowing down across the capital from the mountains to the east.

The time was 2:15 a.m., the appointed hour for preparing another of the open-air naked events that characterize the work of U.S. artist and photographer Spencer Tunick. A group of 6,000 men and women had gathered, tingling with cold on the outside, but feeling warmth inside â€" and with a sense that this was something they'd waited their entire lives for.

How strange. People turned up without a fuss and stood in line to enter the historic Plaza de Bolívar. Nobody pushed or barged ahead. Strangers felt at ease with each other, chatting freely about the weather, or about "Spencer's" other pictures, like he was one of us.

I had tried to get people I know to come and take part, but nobody, neither relatives nor colleagues, accepted. So I was relieved when I bumped into Roberto, an old friend, father and grandfather, aged 60, whose vitality and sense of humor helped dispel the chill.

Spencer Tunick speaking in Mexico in 2013 â€" Photo: Adrián Cerón

Everyone went looking for their spot by the cathedral steps, but keeping close together, for warmth. Three hours went by from the moment we arrived to the moment we undressed, ample time to reminisce about how, as a child, I used to run up these same steps and around the same square, holding hands with my parents. We took a picture here, as families always do: right where 7th Avenue reaches the square, and where I was about to stand naked before some of the nation's most historic monuments.

Did anyone register to take part, and then opt out? Quite the contrary: At 3:30 a.m. the square was like a party, without shouting, shoving, offensive stares or territorial scuffles. Yes, a party.

There was coffee and dissolved cane sugar to help people through the wait and cold. I thought for a moment how few women there were in this sea of men, but then realized I was mercifully, beautifully mistaken.

Angel from above

Word came through that it was time for some of the women to disrobe. The order wasn't bellowed, but rather murmured its way through the crowd from somewhere or other. First it was the girl next to me with whom I had talked a bit about Milan Kundera and his novels. Then a housewife and mother of teenagers and her architect husband, who had come to show their children what they were capable of. Then hundreds of other women, thousands, discarding their jackets and ponchos and sweatshirts and leading the fight against prudishness and fear.

The square was filled now with naked angels â€" from Bogota and Antioquia, from our coasts and valleys, even some foreigners. All naked, making me believe in the possibility of a better Colombia, one that is lively but respectful. I did not see a single incidence of either physical or visual harassment. No man or woman, heterosexual or homosexual, was intimidated. What I saw was Colombians in a state of equality. Finally. Without class, racial or gender differences, all mixed up and mingling as they followed Tunick's instructions.

A grandmother surfed above the sea of people, perched on a board that was held up by the crowd. Then the apotheosis. Thousands of naked women, just them, running and shouting with joy in the direction of the capitol building and the presidential palace. We, the men, were perplexed, in a trance, forgetting for a moment our gender as we observed those who are the origin: our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. Their power was absolute.

Then I found out they posed there, in this center of political power and corruption, before moving onto the Colón theater where they also posed for Tunick. The organizers took some of the men to the nearby Gabriel García Márquez cultural center where, with Tunick directing us from atop another building, we encircled the building as the sun rose and the magic began to fade.

When we came back to the main square and found nobody had robbed any of our clothes and belongings, I thought: "Colombia could be like this. Peace is possible." Perhaps García Márquez himself, our beloved Nobel laureate, was hovering there thinking we deserve a country at peace, not another hundred years of solitude.

*The author, a guest columnist for El Espectador, is a trial attorney who participated in the June 5 event in Bogota.
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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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