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EL ESPECTADOR

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 — 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 — 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.

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Spencer Tunick speaking in Mexico in 2013 — 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 — 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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Denied The Nile: Aboard Cairo's Historic Houseboats Facing Destruction

Despite opposition, authorities are proceeding with the eviction of residents of traditional houseboats docked along the Nile in Egypt's capital, as the government aims to "renovate" the area – and increase its economic value.

Houseboats on the Nile in Zamalek, Cairo

Ahmed Medhat and Rana Mamdouh

With an eye on increasing the profitability of the Nile's traffic and utilities, the Egyptian government has begun to forcibly evict residents and owners of houseboats docking along the banks of the river, in the Kit Kat area of Giza, part of the Greater Cairo metropolis.

The evictions come following an Irrigation Ministry decision, earlier this month, to remove the homes that have long docked along the river.

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