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Hackney Downs Free Festival, 27 August 2016

6 Sep 2016

It was the day after France’s highest administrative court suspended a ban on ‘burkini’ swimsuits, which was imposed in a Mediterranean coastal town. Two days before that came the nauseating sight of armed French police forcing a Muslim woman to remove clothing on the beach at Nice. I am against any State telling women what they can or can’t wear; I am also against cultural, societal or religious tradition pressuring women to dress in ways they might not otherwise choose. Meanwhile, in Hackney…


Esther and I had been invited to be one of two demonstration duos modelling at the Hackney Down Free Festival – an event run by The Star by Hackney Downs pub, where I’ve been a Tuesday night life model on many occasions. It seemed unlikely we could be nude in the centre of an outdoor family fun day so Catherine Hall, who runs Drawing the Star, suggested we pose in our swimwear. Esther stripped to her bikini and I kept my trunks on. No problem… or so we thought.



We were a long way from the French Riviera, yet even in laid-back liberal Hackney we were caught by the swimsuit police. While Esther and I both limbered up, a black-clad festival functionary had button-holed Catherine, who then relayed to us their insistence that we cover up. We were dumbfounded; in a park, on a warm day, dressed in normal swimwear to promote the life art group hosted by the festival organiser – yet somehow we were inappropriate.


For Catherine’s sake we obeyed without protest. Nonetheless, in all my time working at various events, I’ve never come across such a sad, pointless, unwonted restriction. Specifically their demand was that I wear a T-shirt and Esther wear a skirt; it beggars belief. I’ve been outside wearing just swimming trunks in countries across the Middle East and southeast Asia without causing any concern. In Hackney, however, it could not be tolerated. Quite astonishing.


But anyway… to work. We were on the 1pm to 2pm shift, with fellow models Leo and Ian following us from 3pm to 4pm. We began with a back to back pose for 10-minutes, then turned about to face each other with an arm outstretched for 15-minutes. For our third pose, lasting 20-minutes, Esther stood whilst I sat on the floor holding one of her legs. We ended with Esther reclining and me sitting by her side for 10-minutes. Apart from the cover-up nonsense, it was a lovely session on a pleasant day.


The forecast had warned of rain as the afternoon progressed, and indeed there was a short shower before 3pm. Leo and Ian could easily have faced a washout, but instead nature smiled upon them and the sun emerged, bringing with it yet more people to try drawing. Esther and I joined in too, and enjoyed a relaxing hour of al fresco art, whilst Catherine introduced newcomers to the practice. My drawings are below – not strong on proportion, but fun. I hope others enjoyed it too and will try Drawing the Star.




From → Art

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