Nude photographs have been a subject of human artistic pieces for centuries, but University of Wisconsin Art student Mia Boulukos’ project entitled “SEND NUDES” has uprooted the old practice of depicting women through a male lens and focuses on the positivity and power that can be harnessed from a single nude photograph.
Boulukos has surrounded herself with and studied art the majority of her life. She attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City and she knew this was something she wanted to continue coming to UW.
Since joining the UW Art Department, Boulukos had an opportunity to hone her ideas through a variety of mediums including but not limited to oil, acrylic, wood, canvas, digital and most recently neon.
Boulukos’ SEND NUDES project came to life last fall, and since then, upwards of 80 women have chosen to participate, and over 40 works have been created.
Boulukos had no idea the degree to which this project would span social circles and generate attention, primarily over social media platforms.
“I started by wanting to paint female nude figures, and I had just asked a couple of my friends, and they were really interested in it and excited about the opportunity to send me a photo and be painted, and then I posted the progress of these paintings on my social media account where other people started sharing it and reaching out to me about what I was doing,” Boulukos said.
The timing of this project, however, was no accident.
“In a time of #MeToo and Trump politics, I believe it is important for women to remember that their bodies are their own, and have the right to portray themselves however they want,” Boulukos wrote on her website.
The project does not ignore the college setting and social media age in which it takes place. The name “SEND NUDES” itself nods to the youth culture which it both celebrates but also adapts with its feminist flare.
“Nudes and nude culture is pretty present in a lot of youth culture these days but never really talked about, and if it is, its talked about in a negative way,” Boulukos said.
When women choose to participate in the project, they send a nude picture of themselves to Boulukos through her Instagram account @artbybobo. There are no requirements of these photographs, Boulukos recommends they take a picture however they feel most comfortable. Boulukos does request the participant answers the question, why did you choose to participate in this project?
“That quote and the answers to that question became a big part of this project because a lot of women were telling me that they had either never taken a nude or that this project made them feel really empowered … seeing a completed work of art and then having the chance to potentially purchase it, has also made people feel good,” Boulukos said.
Boulukos tries not to alter these photographs during the transmission from digital to her chosen medium.
“I just try to make something beautiful from what the person already sent me,” Boulukos said.
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One alteration Boulukos does implement is the removal of traditional skin color from her subjects to focus on the individual.
“Color of skin and race doesn’t matter in this project,” Boulukos said, “I’m moving away from skin tones and more toward brighter colors.”
This project also challenges the way nude subjects have been taught and portrayed for centuries before its time.
“In art history a lot of traditional nude female portraits are done by men, so it’s obviously the male gaze and how a male perceives it, and I am a woman painting women,” Boulukos said.
According to Boulukos, some have criticized her work as oversexualizing her subjects. Boulukos responds to these criticisms by saying this work is not for you, it’s for them.
Women choose their pose, background, angle to reflect their preferences on how they want to be depicted, choosing for themselves the degree of sexualization they are comfortable expressing.
SEND NUDES is always evolving as a project and adapting to different mediums. Most recently, Boulukos is exploring ways to incorporate the quote from subjects on why they chose to participate into more of a fine art medium.
“The quote is just as important as the painting, but that isn’t being expressed as literally as I could be doing it,” Boulukos said.
Boulukos has also started to explore digital mediums for the project.
“I was starting to come to the conclusion that these pieces were existing more successfully in the digital world because of the digital nature of the photographs anyway,” Boulukos said.
This digital platform is also better expressed through Instagram and other media in which a majority of Boulukos’ exhibiting and communication takes place. Boulukos also recently launched a website as a digital storage space for her work, among other things, in which she finds the balance between her fine art world and her digital world.