Nicolette Barischoff sat naked in her wheelchair Saturday in Washington Square Park as an artist painted her body.
All of it.
“You really only need courage for half of it, then it feels normal,” said Barischoff, a science-fiction writer from Los Angeles who has cerebral palsy. “I think there is a stigma in our society about wanting attention. But all art wants attention!”
Saturday was Bodypainting Day 2017 for dozens of artists and models who, according to the event’s website, “take great pride standing in public as they are.”
“We remove the shame often associated with our bodies and show the distinction between nudity and sexuality,” the site says.
“Ordinary people, ranging in age, size and gender,” the site says — geriatric, 20-something, zaftig, scrawny, sagging, firm, muscular, out-of-shape, Cesarean-scarred, hirsute, bald, shaven and everywhere in between — each paid $100 to be painted for what takes four hours by artists who themselves paid $50 for the stalls and supplies.
Some of the people became human canvases for random shapes and colors. Others made political statements: “All Lives Matter,” read one 26-year-old man’s back. Barischoff’s body was dedicated to saving endangered species and the forest.
Although state penal law criminalizes “exposure” in public, the law exempts “any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.”
Still, beginning in 2009 when organizer Andy Golub painted a man and woman in G-strings and later others fully naked, the NYPD would routinely disperse or arrest Golub and his models at Times Square and other public spots. After several legal fights with the help of civil-rights lawyers, Bodypainting Day has become an annual event, which ends with a group portrait, a march through the street, a ride aboard a double-decker bus and an alcohol-fueled after-party.
The artist painting Barischoff, Suman Kalra, who is getting a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, said the event promotes “acceptance of our body, which is really, really, desperately needed.”
“Once you’re in the zone and you’re painting someone,” she said, “you forget it’s a body part. You see them who are gentle, kind enough who have given their body to you.”
The spectacle of paint-covered buck-naked models on a summer day drew hundreds of gawkers, including parkgoers who happened to stumble by.
Kurren Grover, a 21-year-old college student from North Carolina who’s living in Manhattan’s East Village during a summer internship in finance, said he admired the models’ courage in combating undue body shame.
“You put your body on the line, and everyone’s taking pictures,” he said, passing shirtless through the park. “I think it takes a lot of self-confidence.”
Rich Keyes, 53, of Forest Hills, beckoned naked, as he was being painted in yellow, red, blue and teal colors, to tourists who seemed hesitant to shoot his photograph.
“I get offended,” he said, “when you don’t take pictures!”