Getting naked is Victoria artist’s gateway to vulnerability

What: Skin in the Game

When: Tonight, 7 p.m.

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Where: Sunset Labs, 401 Herald St.

Tickets: $20 at eventbrite.ca or $10 to $20 at the door (or by donation)

 

Since January 2012, Victoria artist/performer Tasha Diamant has stood naked once a month in the streets of our city.

She calls these “vulnerability vigils.” To date, Diamant — who first began performing nude nine years ago — has done more than 100 such appearances, including workshops and fringe theatre gigs.

Her eight-year-old daughter worries her middle-aged mom will be arrested one day for being naked in public. So far, Diamant has avoided jail — although police do often show up.

“People call the police quite regularly. I guess because the sight of a naked bum is offensive to them,” she said with a smile.

Her new show, Skin in the Game, debuts tonight at Sunset Labs (a venue behind Value Village on Herald Street). It offers a new twist. Instead of walking onstage naked, Diamant will slowly undress. Meanwhile, audience members will select topics from her box of index cards. Depending on the card, Diamant will tell improvised stories, while encouraging the crowd to chat, as well.

These clothing-free performances, said Diamant, are intended as artistic statements about our vulnerability in the modern world. As a middle-class, white person living in Canada, divesting herself of garments symbolically removes the trappings of privilege.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to be vulnerable than to show up naked,” she said.

It’s been a singular path for the Calgary native. The daughter of a Greek immigrant who ran a small chain of restaurants, Diamant has worked as an associate editor with Maclean’s magazine (she did the People page) and for Who magazine in Australia. Today, she’s an associate faculty member in communications and culture at Royal Roads University.

As well as pursuing journalism and teaching, Diamant is an artist who used to paint en plein air in Italy, Greece and Mexico. Eventually, following a gut instinct, she shifted her artistic focus to nude performance. Diamant said this is a way of expressing humanity’s vulnerability within society — an issue she believes is rarely addressed.

Diamant gave her first nude performance at a community arts centre in Lethbridge, where she then lived.

“It was incredibly powerful. It’s still a big deal in my memory, yes,” she said.

Diamant describes her nervousness over her nude debut as a “huge, major freak-out.” Being naked in public has become easier over time, although each time she must still summon the courage.

To a degree, her shows function as self-therapy. Diamant says she has experienced “emotional pain” since she was a child. This pain is not connected to any specific abuse or personal trauma. Rather, it’s a reflection of “being a human in this culture.”

She has undergone extensive counselling, both conventional and alternative — including yoga therapy and sessions reflecting the teachings of new-age healer Barbara Brennan. Nothing really helped. Her nude performances have served as an emotional outlet, although Diamant says that’s not their primary purpose.

Sometimes, audience members have shed their clothes in solidarity. And Diamant has one regular follower. Vancouver comedian/performer Emma Cooper does simultaneous nude performances in her city.

Following tonight’s performance of Skin in the Game, there will be a panel discussion with Darren Alexander, educator and organizer of Media Democracy Days, Keith Jenkins, street performer, Helena Andrade, street activist, and Robyn Thomas, a filmmaker and journalist.

Diamant hopes her new format — slowly disrobing rather than appearing naked right away — will be less startling to audiences.

“I thought I’d try something that wasn’t so ‘What the f---?’ to people. Because it’s out of most people’s framework,” she said.

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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