In the United States, leaking a nude self-portrait is an embarrassing rite of passage for celebrities. In Egypt, it’s an act of political defiance. Aliaa Magda Elmahdy received praise and condemnation for posting a nude self-portrait and other nude photos on her blog as an act of personal expression.
Elmahdy says she took the (warning: extremely not-safe-for-work) images at her parents’ house. Her Facebook profile says she is a media arts student at the American University in Cairo, and will turn 20 on Nov. 16. In one photo, yellow rectangles cover parts of her body. In comments on her post, she said that the rectangles represent “censoring of our knowledge, expression and sexuality.”
The photos also are a commentary on Egyptian art schools. Al-Masry Al-Youm notes that Egyptian art students are no longer trained to draw portraits with nude models, and women’s attire in Egypt has grown more conservative since the 1970s.
Publishing the nude photos may be seen as a daring act in Egypt, where women’s rights advocates fear they are losing ground to Islamist groups. The groups, banned under the Mubarak regime, are now permitted to organize politically, and some women activists fear a backlash from the Arab Spring revolutions may come at the hands of conservative parties.
The post has spurred political conversation on Twitter and has been viewed more than 133,000 times.
“We, Egyptians, are still arguing about a ‘civil’ state,” wrote @TheMiinz, “Sorry, but #Egypt is not ready yet for your step #NudePhotoRevolutionary.”
Others spared their criticism for the lighting and composition of Elmady’s photography. “The lighting is aweful [sic] & the composition is dreadful,” wrote @lillianwagdy. “Break all the social boundaries you want, but don't call it ART.”