Well-known artist, poet and self-confessed naturist, Lara Kirsten, had the conservative community of Hogsback in the Eastern Cape in a spin on Friday as she cycled nude down Hogsback Pass. Moreover, it is not the first time that Miss Kirsten has bared her all on a bicycle down this Pass. Quoting Milan Kundera Lara explains: "nudity is the most cherished of all freedoms, the value most in danger"
Another young female artist, Celeste Coetzee, recently caused an outcry when she bared all in an installation at an art gallery in Franschoek to protest patriarchal oppression. Especially Rapport Newspaper and News24 featured Celeste’s nude protest and subsequent eviction from the Art Gallery prominently. The media crucified her and on social networks her baring all while sitting peeling potatoes and tearing pages from the Bible elicited very heated responses indeed.
Distinctly different in nature these two examples of naked ”protest” illustrate to us not only its importance in Law, but also in our everyday lives, the impact of our intent. By being attacking Celeste aimed to shock, confronting real issues head-on, and in so doing managing to insult the very core of a significant number of especially older, white, Afrikaans speaking males that do hold fastidious religious and patriarchal views, and DO oppress the women in their lives. As a statement against this kind of oppression, Celeste’s naked protest was spot on, she is a brave young woman and celebrated her womanhood and right to freedom of speech, but it came at a price because she invited; no, demanded comment, and used nudity as a tool to reach an objective, not principally as an expression of herself.
“I did it all with a sense of fun in mind” explains Lara Kirsten on her Facebook page before a meeting with the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of Hogback’s Community Police Forum on Monday . “I will not climb into my shell. I will not be intimidated by the taboos associated with nudity. I will not justify my naked skin. I will not apologize. I am fully aware of the impact and stirrings I make on the programmed moral code embedded in society's mind. I will not bow down. I will not shout either. This is not something I need to defend, yet in times when I am put under the moral knife I WILL defend my skin with my life! I will stand up straight. And yes, bare, oops, bear the consequences like a lady!”
Four Hogsback locals contemplated laying charges of indecent exposure against Lara Kirsten, but allegedly the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Hogsback Community Police Forum; two wonderful women, as Lara describes them, intervened and: “ requested I do it (go nude) in the forests but not in public again. I aired my side and they said they'll pass it on to re-instate peace in the village's minds.”
The main concern of the Hogsback Community Police Forum is that they're trying hard to clamp down on misbehaviour like drunkenness, violence & rape, and here come Lara Kirsten streaking down the hill (also interpreted as misbehaviour, and yes, against-the-law!!) and upsets the apple cart, and even worse, invite danger onto herself. They said the complainers, black & white, viewed her action as a showing of disrespect. According to Lara showing any disrespect was unintentional.
“Out of sheer exuberance my intention was harmless and yes every action I do need not be weighed by what if this, what if that? Life is too short to act on what ifs. It is the time to do. Streak if you have to and be alive, utterly alive! I know I crossed delicate lines. It was not to incite, provoke or topple a system.”
The question is this though. If one were to swap Celeste and Lara with naked males in the respective stories, same scenario’s, how different would the endings be simply because now a penis is involved? I bet that if it were a man cycling naked down the Hogsback Pass, exposing himself to children on the way, same as Lara did, he will in all likelihood have been charged, unlike Miss Kirsten that got a slap on the wrist from “two wonderful ladies.“
In equal measure of bias, had the art installation in the Franschoek Art Galery featured a naked man in high heels putting on makeup in front of a huge, gloriously gilded mirror in protest at the feminization of men, tearing pages from the Bible, I bet that the artist will most certainly not be called a slut and have his character assassinated by everyone with access to the Internet, unlike Miss Coetzee that suffered the most horrific verbal abuse in the media and on social networks.
Considering the above, can intent therefore ever be relative?