Month: December 2013

NYC Sculpture Park Places Fence Around ‘Controversial’ Artwork [UPDATED]

NYC Sculpture Park Places Fence Around ‘Controversial’ Artwork [UPDATED]

Thordis Adalsteinsdottir's "Bear Eats Man" (2013) before the fence was constructed around it (photo by Susan Richards, via

Thordis Adalsteinsdottir’s “Bear Eats Man” (2013) before the fence was constructed around it (photo by Susan Richards, via

A work on view in Socrates Sculpture Park’s Emerging Artist Fellowship exhibition has been surrounded by a tall wood fence after some Queens residents complained that it was lewd and inappropriate, the New York Times reports.

The piece, titled “Bear Eats Man,” was made by Icelandic-born, New York–based artist Thordis Adalsteinsdottir. In a rough-hewn, folky style, it depicts a bear approaching a naked man from behind and getting ready to take a bite out of his shoulder. But, as theDaily News (ever so subtly) pointed out in an article that ran the day after the show opened, the man also has an erection:

“The figures are meant as a commentary on the adversarial, and at times violent, confrontation between ‘man’ and ‘nature,’ said John Hatfield, executive director of the Socrates Sculpture Park. “This male nude is not intended to be sexually provocative.”

Oh, but it is! It is!

That article also quoted Rob MacKay, director of the Queens Tourism Council, as calling the sculpture “in poor taste.”

Two and a half months later, a blogger who goes by the name George the Atheist, and whom the Times calls “well-read,” wrote an “open letter to the New York City Parks Commissioner Veronica White.” Its message was clear from the title: “Bestiality Sanctioned at Queens Park.” George the Atheist wrote:

Dear Ms White:  I recently discovered this work of “art” at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City.  Please see photos below.  I was curious as to how the Parks Department of which you are the Commissioner ever approved of the emplacement of such an item?   I am certain many citizens would find and have found in it moral offense in its visual obscenity.  Do you?

Surely you are aware that this so-called “sculpture” is situated on parkland that is tax-payer supported?  Was there ever a public hearing held on the appropriateness of this so-called “sculpture”?

George goes on to call Adalsteinsdottir an “artist” — in quotes — and even has a bit of wordplay fun, calling her artist statement “cock and bull” and “blowsy” copy. He ends by claiming that the sculpture “borders on child abuse.”

According to the Queens Chronicle, the parks department responded to George, telling himthat artworks displayed in the park are not subject to their approval. Socrates Sculpture Park officials also placed a sign at the entrance to the park, warning of nudity inside. But George countered that it was too small, and Socrates officials responded again by saying they would “re-evaluate the sign” with the artist’s input. Finally, they decided on a tall wood fence, which was placed around the sculpture within the last week and a half.

Outside of the handful of commenters the Daily News was able to drum up and George the Atheist, it’s not clear whether any large number of people were offended by the sculpture. But the pressure worked. From pictures, it looks as though the new wood fence blocks the sculpture quite effectively, enclosing it on three sides and leaving only the heads of the figures visible from afar; the fourth, open side, is dominated by a cluster of trees. In an interview with the Times, Hatfield insisted that the fence does not constitute censorship: “Censorship would be to remove or alter the work itself, to deny the ability to see the work.”

Neither Socrates Sculpture Park nor Thordis Adalsteinsdottir responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment by the time of publication.

Update, 5:44pm EST: Socrates Sculpture Park has sent us a written statement from Executive Director John Hatfield. It reads, in part:

Public art, on occasion, can be challenging, and we support artists and artworks in the public domain that engage people on many different levels and topics.  We support Thordis Adalsteinsdottir’s figurative tableau, Bear Eats Man, as a thought-provoking work of art. In response to concerns about this particular sculpture, Socrates and the artist decided to create a perimeter outdoor area with signage so parents, guardians and teachers would be able to preview the artwork to decide if appropriate for minors. Similar to a museum setting, the partition allows visitors to decide if they wish to view the sculpture or not.

While we would ideally like our temporary public art to be embraced by everyone, we realistically expect a diversity of reactions—not all favorable–regardless of the style or content of the work. It is everyone’s first amendment right to express their concerns about and appreciation for this work of art. It has been, and continues to be, the role of artists to inspire and confound, elucidate and mystify, reveal truths and create fiction. Socrates Sculpture Park has exhibited over 900 hundred artists over 27 years and supports their creative endeavors.

NYC Sculpture Park Places Fence Around ‘Controversial’ Artwork [UPDATED]

Princess of whales: How a naked female scientist tries to tame belugas in the freezing Arctic

Princess of whales: How a naked female scientist tries to tame belugas in the freezing Arctic


Braving sub-zero temperatures, she has thrown caution — and her clothes — to the wind to tame two beluga whales in a unique and controversial experiment.

Natalia Avseenko, 36, was persuaded to strip naked as marine experts believe belugas do not like to be touched by artificial materials such as diving suits.

The skilled Russian diver took the plunge as the water temperature hit minus 1.5 degrees Centigrade.

The beauty of nature: Like a scene from a classic pre-Raphaelite painting, naked Natalia Avseenko swims with beluga whales in the Arctic

The beauty of nature: Like a scene from a classic pre-Raphaelite painting, naked Natalia Avseenko swims with beluga whales in the Arctic

Belugas are famed for the way in which their faces are able to convey human-like expressions. Certainly Matrena and Nilma seemed to enjoy frolicking with Natalia. 

The taming of the whales happened in the Murmansk Oblast region in the far north-west of Russia at the shore of the White Sea near the Arctic Circle branch of the Utrish Dophinarium.


An area of the sea is enclosed  to stop whales and dolphins getting out and instructors tame the mammals before they are transported to dolphinariums around the world — a practice many animal conservationists consider cruel. 

Belugas have a small hump on their heads used for echo-location and it was thought that there would be more chance of striking up a rapport with them without clothes as a barrier. 

Breathtaking: the scientist uses yoga techniques to hold her breath for up to ten minutes at a time ask she frolics with the whales, Nilma and Matrena

Breathtaking: the scientist uses yoga techniques to hold her breath for up to ten minutes at a time ask she frolics with the whales, Nilma and Matrena

Come on in, the water's lovely: The whales wait for Natalia to take the plunge, but the sub-zero waters are enough to kill most people within five minutes

Come on in, the water’s lovely: The whales wait for Natalia to take the plunge, but the sub-zero waters are enough to kill most people within five minutes

The average human could die if left in sub-zero temperature sea water for just five minutes.

However, Natalia is a yoga expert and used meditation techniques to hold her breath and stay under water for an incredible ten minutes and 40 seconds.

There are around 100,000 belugas in the wild. 

The first to be held in captivity was shown at Barnum’s Museum in New York in 1861, and there are belugas in aquariums and sea life parks across Europe, North America and Asia.

Their large range of ‘facial expressions’ comes from them having a more flexible bone structure than other whales.
Certainly these two had a big smile for the naked Natalia. 

Rare space: Natalia's encounters with the whales take place in an area of sea which is enclosed to stop whales and dolphins getting out

Rare space: Natalia’s encounters with the whales take place in an area of sea which is enclosed to stop whales and dolphins getting out

Attraction: There are around 100,000 belugas in the wild but they are also in sea life parks and aquariums around the world
Here's looking at you: Belugas have a wider range of 'facial expressions' due to a more flexible bone structure

Here’s looking at you: Belugas have a wider range of ‘facial expressions’ due to a more flexible bone structure, and it has made them a hit in aquariums around the world

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Princess of whales: How a naked female scientist tries to tame belugas in the freezing Arctic

Icon to Exile: The Price of a Nude Photo in Egypt

From Icon to Exile: The Price of a Nude Photo in Egypt

PHOTO: Activist from the womens movement FEMEN, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy of Egypt poses after a protest in front of the embassy of Tunisia, in Paris, June 5, 2013.

Egyptian Aliaa Elmahdy became an icon of the Arab Spring after she posted a nude photo of herself online. Then she fled to Sweden after receiving death threats from Islamist extremists. What and whom did her statement serve?

When this story is published, Aliaa Elmahdy will have wiped away the traces of her former life and will be living in a location unknown to us. She will continue to flee and fear the day when one of the men from her native Egypt tracks her down and stands in front of her to take her back.

For the last two years, 22-year-old Egyptian Aliaa Magda al-Elmahdy has been a hunted woman because she used the delayed-action shutter release of her digital camera to take a photo of herself, which she then posted online. She is only wearing stockings and shoes in the photo.

The image made Elmahdy an icon of the Arab Spring. Millions of people saw the photo in the first few days after it was released. Even at the time, it wasn’t clear whether viewers were interested in the message or her naked skin, but nevertheless, Elmahdy was a star for a few weeks. She gave an interview to CNN, but then she received death threats, forcing her to flee from her country and go into hiding.

Some say that Elmahdy ridiculed the laws of Islam, and that she is a whore and a disgrace to Egypt. Muslims from around the world have sent her death threats. A radical Muslim attempted to have her Egyptian citizenship revoked. Since then, though, Elmahdy has been a hero for many others.

Her story raises several questions. Was the photo an act of protest or therapy? Is she a hero or naïve? Elmahdy remained silent for a long time. But now she is providing the answer that could be the key to many questions, the answer to the question: Who is Aliaa Elmahdy?

Most recently, she lived in a Swedish village that could be reached after driving for an hour through a coniferous forest. It’s a place that rarely sees outsiders. It was difficult to contact Elmahdy. Many people have attempted to write her emails or messages on Facebook. But Elmahdy ignores messages from strangers, because most strangers berate her.

Beaten and Caged

Elmahdy has chosen a café for our rendezvous. She sits with her back to the window and orders a glass of strawberry juice. She doesn’t like to look people in the eye.

She says that she grew up in Heliopolis, an affluent neighborhood of Cairo. When she thinks about it today, she says, she misses the smell of the sun on the streets, the cats climbing through the garbage, and kushari, an Egyptian dish made of macaroni, rice and lentils that her mother used to make for her. Her parents, she says, were not strictly religious and didn’t go to the mosque. Her father and mother are cousins. Her mother is a bookkeeper and her father an officer in the Egyptian army. She says that her father had been beating her for as long as she could remember.

Sometimes he would hit her, she says, for contradicting him or not wearing a headscarf, and sometimes for no reason at all. Her mother would stand there and say: “Beat her, but don’t injure her.” Once, when Elmahdy came home from school, her father told her that she was disgusting because she was too small. Once he crushed her glasses with his fist. This is her version of her story. Her parents aren’t speaking to the press.

Elmahdy attended a private school, and when she came home from classes, her parents would lock her into the house. She wasn’t allowed to go outside because they feared that she would lose her virginity if she did. She was kept like a precious calf, to be auctioned off to the highest bidder one day.

She asks for a pad of paper. “I don’t know how you say this in English,” she says. She draws a rod with a sharp tip, a weapon that looks like a spear. “He hit me with that.”

Her parents told her that a decent woman shouldn’t pose for photos, wear a flower in her hair, stand with her legs apart, show the skin of her legs or wear tight clothing or lipstick.

At 13, Elmahdy decided that there could be no God. She learned to lie and draw up a fake class schedule, just to gain a few moments of freedom for herself. She says it was easy to lose her virginity.

After graduating from high school, Elmahdy was accepted at the American University in Cairo, where she studied art. Her parents picked her up from the campus every day. When her mother said that she wanted to check to see if she still had her hymen, Elmahdy grabbed a kitchen knife and said that she wanted to move out. Her father changed the locks in the house to keep her inside.

Elmahdy says that she felt suffocated at home. It was as if she couldn’t get any oxygen into her lungs.

Once, when she was alone, she placed a camera onto a stack in her room, painted her lips a pale red and undressed. She slipped into a pair of strapless stockings and stuck flowers into her hair. She took photos in various poses. She says that she took the photos for herself, as a form of silent protest against her parents. Then she forgot about them.

Liberation and Censorship

A few weeks later, Elmahdy walked left the classroom in the middle of a lecture. She was carrying a backpack into which she had packed a few articles of clothing that morning. She took a bus into downtown Cairo, where she walked along the banks of the Nile and breathed deeply. She knew that she would never return to her parents’ house. She had proven that she would not allow herself to be kept like an animal. First she lived with a female friend, and then she moved in with a man. She was 19 and felt liberated.

It was 2011, and the Egyptian people were rebelling against their dictator. Elmahdy went to Tahrir Square a few times. She experienced her personal liberation in parallel with the liberation of her country, and she must have felt as if the two things were related. That was where her misfortunes began.

In October 2011, she transferred some photos from her digital camera to her laptop. She found the naked photos she had taken of herself and picked out the most attractive one. Although she knew that nudity is a taboo for some people in her country, Elmahdy decided to post the image on her Facebook page.

When someone opens a Facebook account, he or she is required to click on a box to indicate acceptance of the site’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” A statement in a section marked “Safety” reads: “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

Facebook was created in the United States, and it bans photos like the one Elmahdy took of herself. Apparently nudity is still a taboo in some places in the West. For the first time, it became apparent to Elmahdy that the world is a more complex place than she would have liked.

The Facebook administrators deleted the photo a few hours after Elmahdy had posted it. But Elmahdy, determined that no one would ever forbid her from doing anything again, posted the same photo on her blog, so that everyone could see it.

Wars and revolutions like the one in Egypt demand symbols: photos like Robert Capa’s “Falling Soldier” from the Spanish Civil War, the image of a Vietnamese girl running away out of a village that had been bombed with napalm, or that of a boy raising his arms in the Warsaw ghetto. Photos like these simplify the world. They reduced politics to emotions: fear, horror, hope.

But does anyone know the name of that Vietnamese girl? What these icons have in common is that they are bigger than the fate of the individual. And something else, too: They depict victims.

Elmahdy’s photo felt like a rebuttal. She wasn’t a victim. She also differed from the Vietnamese girl and the falling soldier because she had taken her own photo and published it herself. Elmahdy soon realized that the photo was making a bigger and bigger impact.

Supporters of the Egyptian revolution, both the liberals and the deeply religious, distanced themselves from the photo. It was a young art student’s personal act of protest against mistreatment at the hands of her parents. Every detail — the flower, the pose, the stockings — relates to a rule her parents had made. Those who didn’t know that, and hardly anyone did, saw their own message in the photo. The image lends itself to multiple interpretations, and therein lies its power. The photo only became an icon because the West made it into one.

It appeared in newspapers in Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and Denmark. In Germany, it was printed in SPIEGEL and in the newspaper Die Zeit. It corresponded to the notions many Europeans had initially had about the revolution in Egypt. They called it the Arab Spring and thought that what was happening in North Africa could be compared with the French Revolution. They hoped that when the protests were over, people would be more enlightened and build democracies, and that women would find their way to a more self-confident role in society.

Kidnapping and Flight

Elmahdy says that she liked the attention, but that she was also receiving messages from men on Facebook who threatened to kill her. The threats were unsettling, but it was also an exciting time. She had no idea what it meant when her cat disappeared a few weeks after she had published the photo.

A man called her to say that he had found the cat. She was alone when she went to see him, but the man was waiting for her with a friend. The friend locked the door to the apartment, and the man tried to pull Elmahdy’s pants off, saying that it was what she deserved for posting a naked picture of herself. But when Elmahdy kept fighting off the men, they stole her wallet and mobile phone and released her the next morning.

After that night, Elmahdy sensed that the photo could destroy her life if she stayed in Egypt. Ten days later, she boarded a plane in Cairo and fled to Sweden. That was in March 2012.

Elmahdy had become a threat, because she was encouraging other women to imitate her. In the CNN interview, when asked how she sees women in the “New Egypt,” she said: “I am not positive at all unless a social revolution erupts.”

Islam, Women and the West

The role of women is the most fateful point of contention between Muslims and the rest of the world. The lives of women serve as a symbolic setting for this culture war.

Some pious Muslims are worried that their women will become like US singer Miley Cyrus. And people in Europe and the United States look to Egypt with concern, because they believe that it is their duty to rescue the veiled woman from the oppressive clutches of a male-dominated society.

In the West, it’s easy to play the moral teacher when talking about women’s rights in Egypt. But we should remind ourselves that, until 1958, it was illegal for a married woman in Germany to open her own bank account without her husband’s consent. Less than 100 years ago, women were not allowed to vote in Germany. And women have only been permitted to serve in combat units in the German armed forces since 2001.

The conflict between the cultures is being waged with blunt instruments, a conflict over headscarves in German classrooms, burqas in France, high heels in Afghanistan and women driving cars in Saudi Arabia. In Pakistan, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl, in the head because she had fought for the right of girls to go to school. Dutch activist and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali lives under police protection because she criticized the violence committed against women by Muslim men in a short film.

And now Muslim preachers of hate have also set their sights on Aliaa Elmahdy. One person wrote on the Internet: “Her body should roast in hell.”

Eager for Punishment to Set an Example

One of the men who accuse Elmahdy of committing sins is Mahmoud Abdul Rahman. He is a 32-year-old lawyer who works as a bookkeeper in the Egyptian finance ministry. Some 3,500 kilometers (2,190 miles) away from Elmahdy’s hiding place in Sweden, we meet with Rahman in a café in the old section of Cairo. At the beginning of the interview, he says that he knows how strange his arguments must sound for a person from Europe. When he hears the call of the muezzin, Rahman interrupts the conversation to pray.

He believes that Sharia law should be applied in Egypt. He says that he loves Egypt the way he loves his mother, and that his love would be even greater if all women in the country wore veils.

There is a dark spot on his forehead. It comes from placing his head onto the floor five times a day to pray.

When he returns to the table in the café after praying, and says that men must protect women because they are weak, the lights suddenly go out in the entire neighborhood.

“I was sad when I saw Aliaa naked for the first time,” says Rahman. When he found a video online last spring in which she was standing naked in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm, holding a Koran in front of her genitalia, Rahman knew it was his duty to God to take action. He sat down at his desk at home and wrote a letter to the Egyptian attorney general, asking that charges be brought against Elmahdy for waving around a Koran while she was naked. He wrote: “I ask Your Excellency to undertake all legal actions to deprive her of her Egyptian citizenship.” The next morning, Rahman went to the office of the attorney general and filed his complaint. He hasn’t received a response yet and doesn’t know whether his letter will lead to a trial.

Rahman says that Elmahdy must be punished as severely as possible because he fears that if she is not, his daughters could imitate her actions one day. There are tears in his eyes when he pulls his mobile phone out of his pocket and shows us pictures of his daughters. He says that his wife died of a heart attack a month ago, and that it is now up to him to raise his two little daughters.

There is a film on the Internet that depicts reporters from the ARTE television network visiting Rahman at home. In the film, Rahman’s wife speaks with the reporters and, referring to Elmahdy, says: “She stood there naked with the Koran. What did the Koran do to her?” Rahman’s wife didn’t make the impression that she wanted to be liberated.

The positions are irreconcilable in the dispute between Elmahdy and Rahman. Elmahdy invokes her personal freedom and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rahman invokes God. Perhaps it would be easier for Elmahdy if she knew that Rahman is waging his war on his own, but Egypt’s Salafist bloc, the “Party of Light,” captured about a quarter of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections about a year ago. Elmahdy will not change the centuries-old traditions of these people with nude portraits.

Searching to Join a Cause

After fleeing from Egypt, Elmahdy applied for political asylum in Sweden, where she hardly left her apartment for six months. She kept the curtains drawn, and whenever she heard a loud noise, she was afraid that her pursuers had come to get her. Sitting behind her closed curtains, she wondered what would become of her.

She no longer had a family, was no longer a student, and she had no job or home to return to. She had no friends in Sweden. Her boyfriend, who she sees only occasionally, lives in Norway. Her life is in tatters.

It would be understandable if Elmahdy were to change her name and try to forget the past. Instead, she decided to do the opposite. She searched for an organization to join and found the group Femen, which originated in Ukraine and fights against religion and for more equality for women. The women of Femen became famous for their topless protests. They are trying to construct icons in series.

Elmahdy joined the Femen women in a topless protest for the rights of homosexuals in Russia. On another occasion, she snuck into a Stockholm mosque disguised in a burqa, undressed and staged a protest against Sharia. Elmahdy had learned that only a small group of people knew about these protests in advance, which made her feel safe from her pursuers. Once, the Femen activists set fire to a flag with the Muslim profession of faith on it. Elmahdy says: “I fundamentally do not respect religion if it is misogynistic.”

When she published her nude photo in 2011, it was difficult to do justice to Elmahdy because no one knew what she stood for. Today, it is difficult to do justice to her because she seems to stand for so many different things: for gays, for hatred of Islam, for the right to free expression, but also against the right to free exercise of religion. She seems to have lost her way in the clash between cultures.

On a fall day in 2013, Elmahdy made an appearance at a book fair in the Swedish city of Göteborg. Security guards had been hired for protection. There was a panel discussion on a small stage in which four women talked about feminism. The moderator asked whether bare breasts could be hiding the real message. Elmahdy placed her microphone on the table, pulled up her sweater and stood topless in front of the moderator and the audience. The audience members held their smartphones above their heads and snapped her picture. “The body is merely a symbol,” Elmahdy said to the moderator.

When asked what she achieves with her protests, Elmahdy replies: “People become more courageous and express their feeling. The goal is to break the taboo.”

A taboo performs a function. It is based on an understanding that people tacitly accept, and it binds a society together. A taboo can be bad, but it can also be good. In Cairo, Göteborg and Berlin, it is a taboo to undress on the street. It doesn’t mean that women are being oppressed, or men, for that matter.

Elmahdy’s supporters respect her for her courage, most of all, but perhaps we should ask ourselves what she has achieved with her protests. In Egypt, some men are now confusing feminism with nude photos. There are Arab feminists who say that Elmahdy has done more harm than good to women’s equality in Egypt. In Sweden, the operators of a mosque filed a complaint against her for harassment of the public, while visitors to a book fair came away with souvenir photos of a topless woman. There is probably only one person who derives at least some benefit from Elmahdy’s displays of nudity: Elmahdy herself.

When asked what her message to Egyptians like Rahman is, she replies: “Egypt is not your fucking country, and who are you to decide, who gets citizenship.”

Perhaps Elmahdy was never interested in results, or in achieving something concrete with her protest. Her great achievement is the message she sent to her parents and the Salafists with the help of the photo. The image of Elmahdy in the nude says: I’m still alive.

Destroying a Life with Defiance

Rahman receives the message from Elmahdy in Cairo with a smile and says that he too has a message for her: “If you have problems, I can stand by your side. We Egyptians must stick together. I wish you the best.”

When asked whether she regrets taking the photo, Elmahdy replies that she had to do it because she wouldn’t have been herself otherwise. Her words illustrate the tragedy of her story. From the beginning, people expected Elmahdy to be something other than what she is, and when she finally had the confidence to be herself, she destroyed her life in the process.

There has been much speculation over what the look on Elmahdy’s face meant when she undressed and gazed at the camera. The liberal Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung wrote: “Those who look at the picture lustfully and spit on it should look at her expression. A prostitute never has an expression like that.” The Frankfurt daily Frankfurter Rundschau wrote: “The 22-year-old student Elmahdy isn’t looking at the camera lasciviously, but curiously and defiantly.” And the German monthly magazine Cicero wrote: “She doesn’t have a particularly sexy look in her eyes. It’s more of an inquiring gaze.”

After the conversation in the café, Elmahdy is standing on the shore of a lake outside the Swedish village. She watches the ducks, and when she discovers a playground, she climbs onto a jungle gym and sits on a swing. The icon of the Arab Spring giggles as she swings back and forth. What was the meaning of her gaze in the photo? “It means that I am not ashamed to be proud to be the woman I am.”

From now on, Elmahdy could very well change her address every few months. Fleeing from others threatens to become the focus of her life. But unlike the screaming child on the photo from Vietnam, little of Elmahdy’s deed will remain in the world’s collective memory. The symbolic power of the image will gradually fade away. The photo hasn’t changed anything — not Islam, not Egypt, not the city of Cairo and not even Elmahdy’s parents. Before long, her naked breasts will be nothing more than naked breasts.

Icon to Exile: The Price of a Nude Photo in Egypt

El Portús, Spain: Easy on the naked eye

El Portús, Spain: Easy on the naked eye

Nudity is permitted around the clock at Spain’s original naturist resort, where Metro’s nervous first-timer took a little time before fully appreciating the view.

El Portús, Spain: Easy on the naked eyeResort with a difference: El Portús is the most popular of Spain’s 500 nude beaches

It feels like I have X-ray vision. I see naked people. The view from our hilltop cabana is straightforward enough: a picturesque bay nestling in an amphitheatre of mountains.

Three swimming pools, some tennis courts. Palm trees. Mobile homes and caravans decorated with flowerpots.

And then I see my first bare bottom, as a fellow guest here at El Portús – a naturist resort in Murcia, south-east Spain – makes his way down a steep pathway to the beach.

‘Hola! How’s that for a view?’ shouts my neighbour from his porch, where he and his wife are sipping rioja, as naked as the day they were born. Naturism is going to take some getting used to.

I am with my friend, who has been holidaying in El Portús for years and has no compunction about getting her kit off. I do, however, and set off for a walk with my sarong wrapped around me. Everywhere we go – into the shop and the bar/restaurant, past cyclists and hikers, around the children’s playground – people have no clothes on.

A group of French pensioners are playing boules naked. Yikes.

nudist resortBare essentials: Jane Cornwell goes native

Beachside, I’ve never seen so many willies or boobs at once. The bodies they belong to are fat and thin, young and old, short and tall.

As I sit there, conspicuous in my bikini bottoms, I realise they are simply that – bodies. There is nothing erotic or pervy about it. The atmosphere is laid-back, friendly and overwhelmingly democratic.

The owners of the boats bobbing near the diving centre might be more flush than the rest of us, just like the clients of the resort’s day spa might be a bit more exfoliated, but without clothes we’re all essentially the same. I take off my pants and walk into the clear blue sea, disarmed and anonymous.

Boasting 500 camping pitches, 50 cabanas-cum-mobile-homes and a hotel with 15 air-conditioned apartments, El Portús is a paid-up member of the Spanish and International naturist federations, and part of an ever-growing sector in the tourism industry.

Spain has some 500 beaches where nudism is practised. El Portús, set in the protected Sierra de la Muelas and the country’s first naturist campsite, is the most popular.

‘In the beginning we had a lot of voyeurs,’ says resort manager Aurelio Vaquero. ‘The beach was like a circus. Fully dressed people would come over the mountain from the next beach expecting to see a show.

But the geography of this place means they always have to take the same way back again. Then the naturists would stand and slow clap them until they were the ones who felt naked.’

John and Clara Slater, from Dorset, spend a few weeks of each year in El Portus. Clara, 38, has just completed her 100th scuba dive with the resort’s grizzled, Neptune-like dive master, Juan Norte.

John, 42, is more into mini-tennis, which he plays with gusto on a purpose-built court. Naturism, they say as we whizz along in their motorboat, is energising and rejuvenating.

As John cuts the motor next to a tiny rocky landmass called Isla Paloma and Ruth springs overboard and on to the island like a tanned water nymph, we have to agree they’ve got a point.

Communing with nature becomes addictive. In nothing but our walking shoes we climb deserted mountain trails and marvel at the area’s geology, at the different coloured rocks running through the cliffs.

We see rock pigeons and wildflowers and, in the clear blue below, schools of fish. (El Portus regulars sometimes take long breadsticks into the water that are eaten from their hands by fish that mercifully leave other dangling bits alone).

We play tennis naked but for our trainers and bras (you have to put the balls somewhere) and watch the (clothed) rock climbers, too chicken to do it ourselves.

A week in, I sit on our porch and watch our new neighbours arrive. ‘Hola!’ I say, liberated from clothes and inhibitions. ‘How’s that for a view?’

Jane Cornwell flew to Murcia with Easyjet ( Returns from San Javier airport currently start from £200. She stayed in a self-catering bungalow at El Portus ( Prices start from €50 per night.

El Portús, Spain: Easy on the naked eye