Body painting. Is it different? Yes. Is it sexy? Sure. Is it about more than that? Absolutely. Over the last few years, The Chelko Foundation has brought body painting events to Atlanta and paired this unique art form with their ultimate mission of ending gender bias.
It all began with the man himself, Atlanta artist Paul Chelko. After watching his dear wife Debbie suffer through breast cancer, he was angry at how women were treated in the medical system and in the world. His frustration spurred him toward great things: He started The Chelko Foundation with the lofty, overarching goal of ending gender discrimination and violence toward women. Chelko was an artist, so the foundation tapped into various forms of the arts to further their mission.
Randi Layne, the executive director of The Chelko Foundation, met Chelko in the early '80s when he was painting jeans in the window of Tootsies in Atlanta. Already he appreciated an unconventional canvas for art, and Layne remembers that he had "paint buckets everywhere, just painting clothing—jeans, jean jackets, shirts, everything." She was drawn to his dynamic, engaging personality, and they soon became close friends.
In 2007, when Chelko passed away from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Layne took over his foundation. She was a natural choice thanks to her close relationship with Chelko and the fact that, she says, "Women's issues really speak to me." At first she was a little afraid to tackle such a big goal. She was encouraged, though, when she realized, "[Running the foundation] did for me what we want to do for other women. What it did was empower me." With that knowledge and personal success already under her belt, she forged ahead with Chelko's mission to empower other people through artistic media.
Cue the body painting scene: In 2010, The Chelko Foundation hosted the first Bodies as a Work of Art competition as a fundraiser. According to the guidelines of the World Bodypainting Association, artists from all over the world have six and a half hours to paint a nearly nude model, who will then walk a catwalk or do a short performance to show off the artwork. The artists arrive having planned out their designs ahead of time, and the models arrive prepared to be transformed.
Now, don't balk at the word "model," thinking that word isn't typically associated with female empowerment. Layne points out, "The bodies that you see on the runway at Bodies as a Work of Art are not all whatever 'perfect' is." Instead, the show is comprised of women and men of many shapes and sizes. And the best part is that once they are painted, their bodies are essentially irrelevant: The art becomes the real focus, and the personal empowerment follows closely behind. "It really does transform a person." Instead of seeing any so-called "issues" with their bodies, "It's just this beautiful image that [the models] see, and they walk away from it a changed person. It's very cool."
Under the direction of Development Director Ken Goldwasser, the Chelko Foundation's work doesn't stop after the show, either. Over the years, they've given significant monetary support to groups and initiatives dedicated to women's issues, like Jaden's Ladder, Susan G. Komen, Women at Risk International, and Eve Ensler's worldwide activist movement V-Day. They also have scholarships and grants that support the arts, which in the past have gone to SCAD or directly to artists themselves.
The fourth annual Bodies as a Work of Art event on September 28 will be a live exhibition of professional body art, along with music and other entertainment. This year, for the first time in this event's history, the artists have been given a theme to depict: "Empowerment." The entire event also raises money for the Chelko Foundation Scholarship of the Arts, Chelko's endowed scholarship at SCAD, and Angel Flight. You can enjoy the night even more in the knowledge that you have given back while enjoying one of Atlanta's most unique and inspirational events.
Bodies as a Work of Art/Living Art America - September 28, 2013
September 28th, 2013 at 7:00PM until Midnight At the Atlantic Aviation Hangars: 2040 Airport Road, Atlanta, GA 30341
Tickets — $150.00 donation to the Chelko Foundation ($175 at the door) You must be 21+ to attend.