In Ways of Seeing, art critic John Berger explains that in Renaissance art, nudes are portrayed as sexual objects to be viewed by a presumed male spectator situated outside of the painting. Although “the principal protagonist is never painted,” his spectre looms large. “It is for him that the figures have assumed their nudity. But he, by definition, is a stranger - with his clothes still on.”
When C arrives for his appointment and steps into my dungeon, he is already wiggling his way out of his clothes; his arrival literally is a becoming-nude. As conversation begins, he steps out of his pants, lifts his T-shirt over his torso and pulls it over his head. His underwear comes off last, stepping out of each leg he then runs his hands over his skin. His disrobing is expeditious but not hasty, almost matter of fact. It’s not the speed by which he disrobes that delights me but rather the readiness to declare by his very nudity, what is the norm.
A smile creeps onto his face as he stands fully nude before me. Does he find a sense of peace in nakedly acknowledging the superior position of my clothed presence? Standing tall (due to my high heels) above him, I’m free to observe him at my leisure, as it is for me that his nudity has been assumed.
Disrupting the history of androcentric aesthetics, the nude-clothed relation is one where his is the nude body that I gaze upon. I do not share his vulnerability; rather, I bask in it. It is here that a power exchange occurs.