I took my six years old daughter to Nude: art from the Tate collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and it was better than I expected

I think one of the major fears of all parents is to fail raising a healthy and balanced child. Or at least, for me, it is. There are so many aspects to consider when building a personality that the magic of shaping an identity is often shadowed by the panic of a fiasco.

I analyzed and tested my daughter from the moment of her birth – reactions, attitude, feelings and I did my best to understand and respect her feedback. It is not easy to give her freedom and to consent that she can have a different personality but I am learning to accept this every day. I am fascinated with children’s intelligence and with their incomparable faith when approaching the world. Seeing the potential in her and the way she filters information I decided that the best way to raise her is to be honest. It is not easy to answer all her questions but it is certainly the most meaningful and satisfying method. This makes us all vulnerable and often emotional but we have to learn to express this kind of feelings too, don’t we?

This was my reasoning when I concluded that being only six is not too early for Ema to see an exhibition discussing nudity. And I was right. She liked 75% of it and I was thrilled.

In a partnership with London’s Tate, The Art Gallery of New South Wales brought to Australia more than 100 artworks – paintings and sculptures – by Picasso, Modigliani, Francis Bacon, Matisse, Rodin, Louise Bourgeois, Lucien Freud, in an attempt to tell the story of the nude across two centuries, revealing the change of perspective in the representations of naked body. From the classic nude of the 18th century to the vulnerable contemporary body, there is a whole fascinating history. Sensual, erotic, dynamic, simplified, surreal, erotic, sensual, heroic, the human body tells the story of our history and culture, marking the changes in society.

It took us hours to watch the works, place them in time, memorize the new names but it was delightful. I have already read some biographies to Ema so she knew about Picasso, Matisse, Vanessa Bell. We could tell stories staying in front of the paintings, which Ema found captivating – the myth of Icarus, the story of the first woman and man, Adam and Eve, Virginia Woolf’s special relationship with her sister Vanessa. I tried to integrate the naked bodies exposed on the walls in some familiar stories, explaining that our body is valuable, essential for self-knowledge and not taboo.

William Strang, The Temptation 1899.jpg
William Strang, The Temptation, 1899, Tate

The topic of nudity is already embarrassing for my daughter and I am sure it will continue to intensify – I am waiting for the moment when she closes the door when going to the bathroom – but it doesn’t mean we don’t have to discuss the subject. The exhibition made her feel a wide variety of feelings – from shame, to acceptance, then back to disgust when she saw Ron Mueck’s Wild Man. She liked Rodin’s The Kiss (found it very tender), was intrigued by the photo of a woman having a C section and was quiet watching Freud’s Woman on Rags.

Ron Mueck, Wild Man, 2005.jpg
Ron Mueck, Wild Man, 2005, Tate
Louise Bourgeois, Femme, 2007, Tate

I don’t want her to hide and reject her nudity; I want her to understand that her body is herself, her beliefs, her aesthetics, her life.

The last work of the collection is a photography of a woman holding a baby soon after its birth, an affectionate image that recalls the fact that we come into the world naked.

Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29 1994 1994 by Rineke Dijkstra born 1959
Rineke Dijkstra, Julie, 1994, Tate, London


The featured image is my daughter watching Pablo Picasso’s Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932. © Pablo Picasso/Succession Pablo Picasso.


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