Can the power of the female nude neutralize the misogynist bigotry of the presumed Republican presidential nominee? Probably not, but the sight of 100 proudly naked women holding round mirrors up to the sun in downtown Cleveland on Sunday morning—the day before the city was slated to host the Republican National Convention—still reflected rays of hope across the internet.
The women were part of art project by Spencer Tunick, the photographer who has been organizing mass-scale nude shoots since 1994. He usually invites both men and women to take part in his installations, but for the past three years, he’s been planning a project called “Everything She Says Means Everything.” In it, a group comprised entirely of women would “[reflect] their anger through art against the hateful repressive rhetoric of many in the Republican Party towards women and minorities,” as Tunick writes on his website. Tunick told Esquire that the rise of the flagrantly sexist Trump, and his selection of the rigidly anti-abortion rights Mike Pence as his running mate, have only made the project more timely.
“I have two daughters—9 and 11—and I want them to grow up in a progressive world with equal rights and equal pay and better treatment for women, and I feel like the 100 women lighting up the sky of Cleveland will send this ray of knowledge onto the cityscape,” Tunick told Esquire. He projected the work far beyond the city limits via his Twitter and Instagram. “I think it will enlighten not only the delegates but set the vibe of the weekend, set a tone.”
Tunick says more than 1,800 women signed up for the installation’s 100 slots. Those who ultimately participated were drawn by a variety of ideologies. Some were Republicans, such as Cathy Scott, who told Esquire that she thinks Trump has “underestimated his female, Republican vote. I feel like he shot himself in the foot a little bit. I don’t think he knows there’s a black, single, 35-year-old mom, like me, who is listening to what he’s saying. I don’t think he knows I’m in his political party—and that’s unfortunate.”
Others were liberal, and still others showed up for reasons that went beyond partisan politics. “I’m here because I’m a trans woman and we’re not supposed to like our bodies and I don’t like that,” Harmony Moon, another participant, told Esquire.
There’s some obvious irony in protesting the degradation of women by exposing their bare bodies to more objectifying stares. As the Cut pointed out, “It’s an admirable statement, but something tells us that Trump—and the rest of the convention’s attendees—won’t quite get the nuance.” But in Tunick’s vision, the female body is a site of evident power, whether or not the GOP chooses to acknowledge it. “The philosophy of the artwork relates to the idea of the sacred feminine,” he wrote. “By holding mirrors, we hope to suggest that women are a reflection and embodiment of nature, the sun, the sky and the land. … The woman becomes the future and the future becomes the woman.”
Tunick’s installation went off without a hitch on Sunday. The women stripped naked in the pale sunshine at 6:53 a.m. Though cops and firefighters hovered around the edges of the protest, they didn’t break it up as the artist had feared. After less than 30 minutes of shooting, Tunick had achieved his goal. The experience seemed to leave his “art warriors,” as he called the women, feeling the opposite of vulnerable. “We put some feminine energy into this world, shined some positivity into the world,” one named Q Cooke told Esquire. “I sit at home and I watch everything happening and it feels like there’s nothing you can do but watch. But this was something I felt like I could actually do. I want to bring about the change and if this, in some way, does that, then I’ve accomplished something.”