You may have heard of the controversy that’s been brewing in New York over the “desnudas,” a small group of women who walk Times Square naked, except for the body painting that covers them, and panhandling. Many complaints have been received, especially this summer, over the sightings of these women, who are within their legal rights to be topless in New York. The mayor, governor, and Empire State Aid have all decried the topless ladies, making news headlines in the last week.
Bodypainter Andy Golub, who got his start as a traditional artist but has been bodypainting for a few years now, was arrested in 2011 for his work. He spoke with us a year later, saying, “Some people have difficulty distinguishing between nudity and sex. For me, bodypainting is a completely non sexual experience. I think that it’s good to show by example how a person’s body (usually a woman’s) can be seen as an aesthetic and not a non sexual way. I think that’s why the models find it liberating.”
Only recently have some of the desnudas (Spanish for “naked”) been going the way of the costumed Mickey Mouse and Elmo characters, taking pictures with tourists and asking for tips in return. Some travelers through Times Square have complained that all of the panhandlers are far too aggressive, physically touching visitors and entreating them to cash tips. After a meeting with city officials this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday made the suggestion to get rid of the now popular pedestrian plazas that host the street performers in question. He announced a task force to review the legal and -some consider – potentially harmful and distressing activities that are taking place in New York; the task force would also provide recommendations on what “tangible actions” could be taken.
“That’s a very big endeavor, and like every other option comes with pros and cons,” Mr. de Blasio said of removing the plazas. “So we’re going to look at what those pros and cons would be. You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts. You could also argue they come with a lot of problems.”
The construction of those pedestrian plazas in 2009, while increasing the terrible traffic in the area, does provide more space for the massive numbers of pedestrians moving through, and apparently has decreased the number of accidents that have happened there. The Times Square Alliance is especially against such a harsh concept, and group president Tim Tompkins voiced their concerns yesterday in sarcastic response:
“Sure, let’s tear up Broadway. We can’t govern, manage or police our public spaces so we should just tear them up. That’s not a solution. It’s a surrender.”
Twitter users had plenty to say about the scandal between artists and city officials in Times Square:
@Hennesseyedit: NYC is dirtier and fouler than ever, but #desnudas is the filth that gets Di Blasio’s attention? Ugh.
@DoctoraSexual: Aproximadamente el 80% de todas las fotografías en el internet son de mujeres desnudas.
@TreeHugger: I remember Times Square when it was safe family friendly and no lady parts in your face.
@NYTimesCohen: This is ridiculous. Let it be. We’re in New York City
Andy Golub spoke out to complaining parents, writing in a letter released early this morning, “Not only is it legal to be topless in New York City, but for the sake of art, full nudity is legal in public for both men and women. I have proven this MANY times including many times in Times Square.” He wrote that speaking out against the panhandling is one thing, but restricting his art is another: “I agree that the pan handling in Times Square is a nuisance. So restrict it, but restrict all of it.
It’s a shame that it was only when female breasts were involved that it was decided there needed to be a change (this is prime example of gender inequality-the Naked Cowboy has been topless for decades).”
Golub created Bodypainting Day, which occurred on July 18 this year outside the United Nations to much success – over 100 models showed up to participate and both the painters and the onlookers seemed to enjoy themselves, noted Golub. It was such a success in fact, that Golub created the first-ever Amsterdam Bodypainting Day – his first time bodypainting on foreign soil. Taking place just one week ago, it also was deemed a success by Golub. Unheeded by the threat of government action, Golub plans to continue his “form of free artistic expression” next week on August 26 and 27 from 2-4pm in Times Square. If you’re interested in either participating or just checking out what all the fuss is about, stop by or even start a conversation with the artist and his “canvases.”