A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Nothing like the macabre hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch to instill fear into the medieval Christian believer’s mind. Nothing like the pathos filled baroque paintings of Rubens to better glorify the power and grandeur of the religious experience. Nothing like the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio – dirty feet, wrinkled faces, tavern settings – to reveal the human side of the godly.
Nowhere a bleaker outlook on humanity and deeper fear of insanity than in Goya’s Black Paintings.
Never has there been a more haunting picture of the horror of war than Nick Ut’s photograph of Kim Phúc, badly burned by napalm bombs, fleeing, naked towards his lens. Never, after the South African photojournalist Kevin Carter took his disturbing Pulitzer prize photograph of a Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture, has hunger been the same. Never, since Steve McCurry in 1984 immortalized the sea-green eyes of the young, Afghan girl Sharbat Gula at a refugee camp in Pakistan, has the West met a stare as powerful.

A picture, so the saying goes, is worth a thousand words.

Pictures show and testify. They disturb, unnerve, scare, horrify. They impress, touch, inspire.

But a picture is not, nor should be, a policy.

The image of the lifeless body of a toddler, pictured face down in a red t-shirt and shorts, stranded on a beach in Turkey has reverberated across the world. It is the saddest, most solitary, most horrible picture imaginable. Painful, horrifying, spine-chilling. Shameful and disgraceful.
It should not have come to this.

The current immigration/refugee crisis is not a new phenomenon. So far, this year, an estimated 2000 people – men, women and children – are feared to have died in the Mediterranean alone. In August, the decomposed bodies of seventy suspected migrants were found in an abandoned truck on the expressway between Vienna and Budapest. Refugee camps like those in Azraq and Zaatari in Jordan but also those in Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt are bursting at the seams.

In July this year, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a sobbing Palestinian teenager Reem Sahwil she could not stay in Germany because the country ‘can’t manage’ more refugees. Mrs. Merkel was severely criticised for arguing that questions of immigration cannot be approached anecdotally. Meanwhile, Mrs. Merkel’s discourse has changed. And all because of a photograph.

Good intentions? Political opportunism? A show of heart and solidarity or shortsighted ignorance? Left versus right? No matter the viewpoint, policy makers can’t be allowed to sidestep and ignore a problem only to come up with sudden, rhetorical half measures following a pang of conscience, sparked by a powerful photograph.
Etymologically, to govern means to steer, to rule. To rule, regulare, from regula, straight stick.

No, one need not rule without a heart.

But if we wish to show our heart and reach out, we should do so in a sustainable, honest and worthy way. This implies structures, systems, cooperation, organization and planning rather than panic and punctual band-aid style relief. A cacophony of pictures and cheap rhetorics, whether by self inflated politicians or celebrities, are not going to help the many hundreds of thousands, in need of support. Changing the lyrics of a song will not change their fate.

A picture may be worth a thousand words yet sometimes a wise word is all it takes.

Preachers in the desert.

Itsy Bitsy

Bikinis, let’s face it, are not flattering garments. Whether triangle, halterneck, bandeau or balconette, high-waisted, low-waisted or string, ruffled, fringed, sequined, hipster, skirtini, microkini, tankini, bandini, bikinis decoratively hide two, technically three things; breasts and genitals.
By telling us what needs to remain, literally, under cover, bikinis put a strange emphasis on these selective female bodily parts. They censor the eyes and yet guide the gaze towards the unspeakable.

Bikinis reveal rather than conceal.

And so, under the cover of the bikini, the semi-nude becomes semi-naked, but only as far as convention allows this.
Think for a moment of your favourite nude painting. Be it Goya’s Maja,

goya

Velázquez’ Venus,

titian

Manet’s Olympia,

Olympia_Edouard_Manet_1863_65-Paris

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

demoiselles

or Rubens’ Three Graces.

The_Three_Graces,_by_Peter_Paul_Rubens,_from_Prado_in_Google_Earth

Picture these women. Watch their faces, their demeanour, their poses. Feel the flesh of their thighs, the weight of their breasts. Look behind the gossamer veil, playing hide and seek with the beholder. Contemplate the naked becoming nude.
Now picture these same women, wearing a bikini.
No, it does not work. Not only because they would look ridiculous but mostly because their bodies, these expanses of female flesh, of beauty, innocence and temptation would seem strangely interrupted, punctuated by cut to size pieces of fabric.

Still, the summer display of bodies is not all Ingres and Modigliani.

Le_Bain_Turc,_by_Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_from_C2RMF_editModigliani_-_Nu_Couché_au_coussin_Bleu

Some of it is Rembrandt or Lucien Freud.

Rembrandt_Naked_Woman_Seated_on_a_Mound_1631Freud

For the human body is diverse. It is free and seldom does it adhere to the prevailing standards of perfection. Thus people sculpt their bodies, either through exercise or surgical intervention. People use their bodies, abuse their bodies. But flaunted or hidden, pale or tanned, waxed or hirsute, our bodies are but variations on a theme. After all, I have what you have.

Show me yours and I’ll show you mine?

The dubious elegance of the bikini does not however call for unbridled nudism. Nor is it a plea for the one-piece, elegant and tasteful as this may be. No, by all means, let us stand by the bikini. With a little help from a sarong, a pareo or a cover-up perhaps?
Perhaps. Even though a cover-up can be deceiving.
Fragonard’s Swing is, despite the heavy dress, the rich pinks and white satins and silks and the bergère hat, a dirty little picture full of naughtiness and playfulness, complicity and voyeurism.

The_Swing
Yet picture this woman in a bikini and what is left?

There seems to be a place for naked, a place for nude and a place for cover up, depending on setting, on intent and, dare I say it, gender.

Due to a lack of male models, Paul Cézanne painted his Seven Bathers from memory. Selective memory thank God. For this is how we like them. Nude and naked, without the urge to reach for the fig leaf or, its modern counterpart, the Speedo budgy smuggler.

cezanne

Do  I hear disagreement?

The Guerrilla Girls call themselves the 'conscience of the art world'.

The old ‘weenie count’ campaign is still relevant and the issue remains unresolved. As with the bikini. Entrapped in a continuous game of hide-and-seek, forever stuck in a fight with gravity, the reign of the bikini lingers. As does the pursuit of the bikini body.

But there is no such thing as a bikini body. And if, for the briefest of moments, there seems to be, it is only a temporary illusion. The body is flawed, the camouflage inadequate.

lichtenstein

Beauty is imperfect and no matter how hard we try, we are, unlike Lichtenstein, unable to join the dots.

So if all else fails, all that is left to do is to wear that bikini!