Press release

Skin: Exposed - a two-day event exploring nudity

Wellcome Collection is set to get under your skin with a special two-day event exploring cultural, historical and evolutionary perspectives on nakedness.

From how humanity evolved to become the 'naked ape', to how fashion has evolved to reveal and conceal, 'Skin: Exposed' brings together leading experts in evolutionary science, history of art and more to celebrate nudity in all its guises.

Skin: Exposed
Friday 16 July, 19.00-21.00 and Saturday 17 July, 10.30-17.00
£30/£20 concessions.
The price includes entry to event on both days and refreshments throughout (including lunch on Saturday).

Nudity is an intimate state - sometimes it is seen as a taboo, sometimes as something to be celebrated. This two-day event offers the opportunity to explore how nakedness is viewed across cultures and history, in sexual, artistic, literary and religious contexts.

Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at the Wellcome Trust, explains: "Wellcome Collection strives to be a place where people can think about the unusual and the unexpected. 'Skin: Exposed' provides a chance for us to challenge perceptions and prejudices around something that we all are aware of but that remains a taboo: nudity."

'Skin: Exposed' is part of a series of events programmed to accompany 'Skin', a major temporary exhibition at Wellcome Collection that launched in June 2010. Taking a predominantly historical approach, 'Skin' incorporates early medical drawings, 19th-century paintings, anatomical models and cultural artefacts juxtaposed with sculpture, photography and film to chart the significance of the skin from the 16th century to the present day.

Literary readings, Friday 16 July

Steven Connor, author of 'The Book of Skin', reflects on nakedness in literature in selecting some of his favourite excerpts. Celebrated actress Paola Dionisotti will perform the readings, giving the listener an insight into the thoughts of great literary masterminds including Milton, Keats and Tennyson, among others. There will also be the opportunity to explore the 'Skin' exhibition, with the curators present.

Talks and discussion, Saturday 17 July

Why are we naked?
Sir Walter Bodmer, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford
What was the special advantage to humans of becoming naked of hair? Was it temperature adjustment, resistance to parasites, sexual selection, social organisation or some combination of all of these? Were Neanderthals naked and what can studying their genome and that of chimpanzees tell us about these questions? Did evolution of dark skin colour have anything to do with nakedness? There are many questions and few definite answers.

Whatever happened to Byron's Pool? A journey into the relationship between naturism and sexuality
Glenn Smith, Honorary lecturer in qualitative methods at Imperial College London
Organised naturism argues that social nudity is asexual. The public, and the authorities, remain sceptical. This talk is a personal and historical journey into the experience of naturism and its relationship with sexuality. It suggests that this relationship is more complicated, and that neither extreme view - naturism as asexual or as a 'ruse for randy men' - offers a helpful way forward. The talk concludes that naturist environments could provide a unique place to enhance sexual wellbeing in modern society.

Fashion and flesh: revealing and concealing the body, 1900 to now
Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in the History of Dress and Textiles at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London
Since the start of the 20th century there has been a gradual shift from tightly covered bodies at the start of the century to exposed skin and carefully sculpted garments designed to reveal as much flesh as possible in more recent decades. This talk will consider the impact of changing lifestyles, moral values and gender politics, and, importantly, how these fashions feel to wear and the ways fabric and skin interact to produce a sensual experience for wearer and viewer.

Renaissance art exposed: sexual culture and the birth of the artistic nude
Jill Burke, Senior Lecturer in Italian Renaissance Art at the University of Edinburgh
Recent research on Renaissance sexuality can be startling: in the 15th century, about half of Florentine men were indicted for sodomy; and the term 'courtesan' was coined, in 1501, to describe the naked women attending the Pope's parties. At the same time, a revolution in the representation of the naked body was taking place. Focusing on work by Michelangelo and Raphael, this talk will place the emergence of the Renaissance nude in its cultural context, and ask what effect this new type of idealised figure had on the body image of the viewer.

The skyclad ascetics of India - better known as naked holy men
Michael Yorke, anthropologist and film maker
A presentation of the story of Vasistha Giri and other Naga Baba. Nineteen years ago a 16-year-old Indian boy, Vasistha Giri, ran away from his family in central India and joined the radical sect of Hindu ascetics called the Juna Akhara. After his first 12 years of training he finally became a Naga Baba - a full member of his monastic order. He must now be Digamabara, or 'skyclad'. When not in public he does not wear any clothes but covers his body in the holy ash from his sacred fire.

Ordinary heroes: how nakedness can be used to enlighten, empower and entertain
Philip Carr-Gomm, author of 'A Brief History of Nakedness'
How many of us are comfortable enough in our own skins to feel free of any sense of embarrassment about our bodies? Despite the religious, legal and cultural restrictions that surround its display, nakedness has been used creatively by mystics, political protestors and artists for centuries. Today it is also being used by 'ordinary people' to break free from feelings of 'body shame' and from the tyranny of stereotypical ideas about beauty.