“Can body hair get in the way of your work?”
Imagine sitting in the nude with someone squinting at you for hours, looking at each of your curves, valleys and rolls as a perplexing series of circles, triangles and lines. The removal of clothing and nudity may be sexualised for most of us, but for a nude art model, the idea of being undressed is a mere part of the job. And while nude art may have existed in India for centuries now—with the tradition immortalised on the walls of our temples and palaces, and in the sculptures that fill our caves—the custodians of our morality have made sure the art form that helps amateurs understand human anatomy and the play of shadow and light, is now looked upon as shameful. The negative connotation attached to it means that today, few art schools are advocating for it and even fewer museums are open to patronising it. It also means that art models like Tulsi have to keep their work a secret, with her husband and his family believing she’s a sweeper at one of India’s most prestigious art schools.
VICE: Hi Tulsi, so how did you become a nude art model?
Tulsi: My mother was a nude art model. And her mother before her. My sister is a model too. She’s the one who got me into this. I was extremely hesitant at first. I used to think of it as something bad; I was a child and didn’t understand it. When my mother would bring me along for sessions, I would run to the other end of the building and avoid being anywhere near her. In fact, even when I modelled for the very first time, I cried for hours before. But after that, I got comfortable with it. I forgot all my inhibitions, and now it doesn’t bother me at all.
Considering the job description heavily involves staring at one spot for hours, how do you get through it?
It definitely gets boring. Sitting for hours in one position is tough and if I move around or reach to scratch an itch, the artists can get annoyed. But I don’t hold back and if they say something, I tell them I am a real person and not a katputli (puppet), which usually makes them give me some leeway. It’s easy to get lost in what you are doing. What goes through my mind is just my family, my husband and my children. The fear that they will find out is strongest during the sessions and I can’t help but worry. I know I am not doing anything wrong but I also know they won’t see it that way. It makes me really sad but I don’t let it show on my face, ever. I just do my job.
Original publication 20 January, 2020
Posted on NatCorn 9th June 2021
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