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SOPHIS presents: Purity or Degeneration? Nudity, Art and Activism

  • Room E561, 5th Floor, East Wing, Menzies Building Monash University Clayton Campus (map)

In the early twentieth century the naked body increasingly became a site through which political dissatisfaction was articulated. The nudist movement offered a critique of modern life at the same time that artists used the nude as a canvas protesting the limits of older artistic traditions. Their work paralleled a starkly contradictory vigilance movement which tracked vice as the source of modern degeneration. Despite the differences between these actors, their understanding of the nude was shaped by similar readings of race and gender. This paper explores the connections that linked these disparate movements and their centrality to claims over modernity.

Philippa Levine is Mary Helen Thompson Centennial Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin and Co-Director of the University’s Program in British Studies. Her books include Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (2003). Her Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics, co-edited with Alison Bashford, won the 2011 Cantemir Prize. The 2nd edition of The British Empire, Sunrise to Sunset appeared in spring 2013. It has been translated into Italian and Japanese. Her Eugenics: A Very Short Introduction is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.