Black Woman In Nude




Harry Bowden, American ( 1907-1965) Florence Allen for a drawing class at CSFA, May 4, 1948, black and white photograph. Courtesy of the Florence Allen papers, 1920-1997, in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution


I am painfully broke.

My diet consists of single slices of pizza, boxed macaroni & cheese, and Wendy’s chicken nuggets. I don’t have a car and my class schedule leaves little time for employment so I’ve learned to barely survive off of whatever financial aid I get each term. I embraced minimalism, that is until  I heard that the art department needed models.

” I could do that,” I thought, though in a second I became mortified at the idea of being naked in front of people. What’s weird about it is that I am not really shy about nudity. I’m comfortable with looking at images of naked people ( in art) and I never feel aroused by those images, so why I would objectify my own body in a nonsexual context. Why would I deny myself the quintessential art school experience of posing nude? What are my hang ups? What is my baggage?

Unpacking that

It is no secret that the Black female body has historically been subjected to caricature. This is not a new thing. I find myself jumping through hoops so that my anger would not be interpreted as “bitch”, my desire interpreted as “slut” and my compassion interpreted as ” mammy.” Despite my best efforts, I know that respectability is a myth and I am not free from such gaze.

In terms of my Black body, I have internalized a type of shame that comes from my ancestral memory. I have seen images of Black women’s naked bodies displayed on postcards. Black women are and have been aware of how we are portrayed. Black mothers chastise their daughters about being ” fast” in efforts to protect their daughter’s purity because she knows how the world sees black girls. Black women have been walking on eggshells for years and have to constantly prove their humanity and womanhood.


renee cox baby back.jpg
Renee Cox Baby Back, from the series American Family
Archival digital print
30 x 40 in.
Courtesy of the artist


To pose naked for a classroom filled with mostly White students would definitely be in experience for me. To exist in a space, exposed in all of my glory would be performance art. I would stand there thinking about the politics attached to my body. I would roll over to my side and think about what it means to be a Black woman and to be naked in front of a room full of White people. I would stand up again, but this time with my arms in the air, thinking about the concept of me being on display and being completely vulnerable to that gaze. At that moment it would not matter if they were judging me. Straight away they would have noticed my differences.  They would have noticed a body that did not resemble their own. Perhaps it would conjure some fantasy of what they imagined a Black woman’s body to be?

I don’t know.

There is so much discourse attached to my body and I hold it as neither a burden nor a charge. The simple act of me performing as “nude model” requires so much that I may or may not be prepared for.

If I were to put myself in that position, would it be considered a statement? Am I breaking barriers? Am I rejecting the ideals of womanhood, the fantasies of my oppressor, and promoting myself? Is it that deep? Isn’t this a job? Aren’t I getting paid?