Exactly one year ago today, Instagram artist Sophie Tea hosted a glittering event in Shoreditch to officially mark the completion of her hugely successful ‘Send Nudes’ project. With a naked catwalk at the heart of the evening’s festivities, the evening was a true celebration of body positivity, empowerment and liberation. Britain Uncovered looks back on how the evening unfolded, and details the long-lasting impact it’s made.
Starting out her career by painting animals, NYC taxis and even the likes of Super Mario, Sophie Tea had already generated a strong following and an eclectic mix of work prior to the launch of her ‘Send Nudes’ project in 2019 – but it was this concept, which was brought to life during a glitzy showcase in Shoreditch shortly before Christmas last year, that really struck gold for the Instagram artist; generating significant mainstream coverage and serving as the launching pad for her activities throughout 2020.
Through her Instagram channel, which was launched back in 2016, Sophie Tea has been able to develop direct and meaningful relationships with each of her followers; and it also serves as a short cut and a way of selling her art without having to find representation from galleries. By disrupting the art industry on Instagram in this way, the artist can call the shots, dictate the narrative and tell her own story exactly as she pleases, and it was via this same medium that Sophie was able to reach out to her followers to request their nude selfies back in the summer of 2019 – a move that kickstarted the ‘Send Nudes’ campaign and led to the event so many of us enjoyed one year ago today.
Experience the nudes and get boozy!
Admittedly, I was somewhat slow on the uptake, and have to confess that I only discovered Sophie’s work several days prior to the event. A friend of mine had excitedly secured a pair of tickets for the sold-out show at fairly late notice, and having been invited as the designated ‘plus one’, I decided to take the plunge and see what all the commotion was about!
Writing for an online arts magazine at the time, I was there partly for business, partly for pleasure – but other than an exhibit of the artwork being showcased, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the evening. On the official event listing, Sophie encouraged us to, “Come say hi, experience the nudes and get boozy”! And with Christmas right around the corner, this seemed like an entirely appropriate time to take her up on the offer and enter into the festive spirit, and the lure of an on-site candy floss machine also proved far more tempting than I should probably admit.
My friend and I arrived in the East End of London fairly early in the afternoon, so opted for a few afternoon brews in the nearby Brewdog bar before making our way over to the Protein Studios. Whilst devouring our Punk IPAs a little more speedily than we probably should have, we spotted that Sophie Tea had gone live over on the ‘gram, and we watched on as an impromptu matinee of the nude catwalk was in full swing – and at this stage, we realised that the previously advertised ‘naked catwalk’ really was what it said on the tin! The afternoon show was being held for the benefit of the press and media (a worthwhile exercise, judging by the column inches it received the following day), and it also served as a warm-up of sorts ahead of the packed house that was expected later in the day.
Having had a taste of what was to come, we were even more excited about the evening’s festivities, and shortly thereafter made our way across town ahead of the 5pm entry time and formed an orderly queue (albeit at the wrong door, it later emerged). Peering through the window, we spotted fleeting glimpses of painted models scampering around in various states of undress, and we were also able to see, from a distance, much of the fantastic artwork that Sophie’s team had hung up on the walls.
My friend, who had already set her sights on her first Sophie Tea purchase, was anxiously trying to see what was on offer, and had been nervous the entire day about the art being snapped up in front of her eyes before she had time to make a decision. Despite imposing a ‘strict £1,500 limit’ on herself earlier in the day, all rules went out the window the moment we were allowed inside, and within minutes she ended up committing to a piece way in excess of £3,000! But with this now officially in the bag, we could both relax and enjoy a celebratory drink or two whilst watching the rest of the evening’s festivities unfold.
The red carpet treatment
In addition to Sophie’s powerful work adorning the studio’s walls – much of which was snapped up in the early proceedings, it turned out – a key component of the evening was the aforementioned naked catwalk, and upon entering, we took our seats by the red carpet in anticipation of the evening’s entertainment.
With the room filling up and a palpable sense of anticipation building as showtime approached, the lady of the hour emerged onto the catwalk at around 5.45pm, and seemed genuinely overwhelmed with the strong turnout and success of not only the night itself, but the Send Nudes project as a whole.
With a microphone in hand, Sophie beamed with pride, explaining, “I have some very beautiful, brave, incredible women back behind the catwalk ready to come out and bare all in the name of body positivity,” before explaining a little more about how the project came to be and what prompted her to choose nudes as her latest muse.
Sophie, who has always been fascinated by the human form and wanted to focus on body positivity to use her platform for good, initially started the project as a ‘100 Nudes’ concept which would see her sketch out that exact number of drawings before moving on to larger canvases. However, the massive response to her request for nudes via DM – which resulted in Sophie waking up to over 1,000 nude shots the following day – helped spark the Send Nudes project that had brought us all together at the Protein Studios in celebration of this great achievement.
The catwalk featured a total of 17 different models, by our count (including social media influencer, Chessie King), and each of the ladies had been painted up by Sophie Tea in her unique and inimitable style earlier in the day, in what was reportedly a chilly, surreal and hugely fun experience! On the catwalk, each of the models essentially served as a real life embodiment of the nude paintings that were hung on the walls; and Sophie’s art was quite literally brought to life in an awe-inspiring and remarkable performance delivered flawlessly in front of a receptive and enthusiastic audience.
Despite lasting a little over three minutes in real time, the feat made a lasting impression and was a truly impactful statement, serving to highlight the fact we should all take ownership and be proud of our bodies, no matter the shape, size or perceived flaws. The grand finale saw the entire group return for a curtain call, of sorts, and you could detect a huge sense of accomplishment among those who had taken part and stepped out of their comfort zones in the name of art and to celebrate their bodies.
‘An instant sense of community’
With the catwalk portion of the evening now in the rear-view mirror, many of the models involved remained in their painted states and came back into the main area to mingle with their friends and family, clearly still basking in the glory of everything they had achieved during this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
With no shortage of activities to keep guests occupied – such as a photobooth, candy floss machine, a huge teacup filled with plastic balls and beyond – attendees had the perfect excuse to stick around for a while and soak up even more of the artwork and atmosphere in general.
Verity, one of the participants, noted in her review, “After the show, god our confident little arses were wandering around getting pictures with strangers who asked us for photos. Sarah and I spent practically our whole evening at the bar or in the teacup, we did the flash photo booths and bloody hell our confidence grew 1,000 times that day... that day will stay with us forever alongside those who took part".
Also among the participants was Lucy, an experienced life model, who told us, “I’ve done nude modelling for art classes for eight years since I was 18, but never anything like a catwalk! The whole day was an amazing instant sense of community and it’s been so incredible to see how many people have been inspired by it – that’s something I’ve never really considered before about working nude. It was a perfect day and so much fun! Sophie’s work is so impactful and it was such a great experience.”
Every model we spoke to shared similarly positive experiences, and it’s clear to see that those involved on the day still share a very special bond.
A lasting legacy
Despite being landlocked in Australia due to COVID-19 restrictions for the bulk of 2020, Sophie Tea has capitalised on the success of the show in a major way – opening two dedicated galleries (one in London, the other some 10,000 miles away in Sydney), and hosting a series of follow-up events with a similar edge to them, many revolving around painted models of all shapes and sizes. The most recent event featured painted ladies frolicking through the streets of London, and it appears as though nudity will remain at the heart of Sophie’s work for the foreseeable future.
Several of the the models from the Send Nudes event are spreading the body positivity message in their own right too, ensuring that the important message conveyed by the event is kept alive and spread far and wide. We mentioned in a recent story that the event helped spawn the likes of The Body Confidence Issue and I C Me (amongst others), and it can certainly be credited with helping to inspire the launch of our very own Britain Uncovered site too. So although the event may now be a year old, its message is still as fresh and as relevant as ever – and we’re very much looking forward to seeing what Sophie has in-store for us all in 2021.
- The 'Send Nudes' nudies who took part in the catwalk at this event were: Amy Harper, Chessie King, Clare Hodgkinson, Emily Dudson, Georgina Daugherty, Jessica Hake, Jordan Green, Katie Burrows, Lucy Henighan, Marianna Skutbergsveen, Nicole Everett, Phoebe Beckett, Rachel Dudson, Sarah Medlock, Tillymay Clark, Verity Pitts, Victoria Wyatt and Wendy Coombs.