Brad Carrier dropped his black religious robes and stood naked before a crowd packed into the MAda Shell Gallery on Ashland's plaza on Friday night.
"This is what we are," he declared.
However a person defines God, Carrier said it's a tragedy and an insult to define any part of creation, including the human body, as bad.
Carrier, who moved to Ashland in 1986 to serve as a minister, was surrounded by walls filled with art celebrating the male and female form.
Aletha Nowitzky of Ashland stood in the gallery as well, her breasts exposed through holes cut into her dress. Before Carrier delivered a 20-minute message about the human body, Nowitzky sang in her revealing attire.
The MAda Shell Gallery art and performance pieces came in response to a Jan. 5 decision by an Ashland City Council majority to ban the display of genitals in outdoor public spaces. Ashland previously had a more limited ban in parks and the downtown area, but councilors widened the ban after two out-of-state men appeared on separate occasions near Ashland schools.
The new law doesn't apply to Carrier's indoor performance at the MAda Shell Gallery.
City Councilor Eric Navickas, who runs the gallery with Amy Goddard, voted against the city-wide nudity ban.
Navickas said the exhibit features about two-dozen artists from all over the world, with entries coming from as far away as the United Kingdom and Japan. He said artists are always interested in having a venue to show their art, but many showed an interest in protecting freedom of expression.
"People wanted to celebrate the human body and take the lewd, sexual aspect out of it," Navickas said.
Other than the performance pieces, the rest of the night was suprisingly traditional — a reminder of why the nude has played such a central role in art over the centuries.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Ashland resident Luke Mastny. "It's kind of traditional. It's not provocative. It's not erotic. It's natural beauty. It's all celebrating the human body in one way or another. It's great."
Mastny said he could see both sides of the public nudity issue in Ashland. He said some people didn't show discretion when they appeared nude near schools. At the same time, Mastny said he believes in personal freedom and thinks nudity bans provoke people.
"It seems like some people want to be nude because they're told they can't be," he said.
Except for one photograph of a woman with a come-hither expression, most of the artwork in the exhibit was tastefully done.
Artist Timothy Bullard's photographic print entitled "Smith River" shows an image of a pale woman lying on her side on gravel, while river rapids foam white behind her.
A charcoal and pastel drawing titled "Dana" by S.S. Schoneberg drew comments from visitors that it looked almost like a photograph.
Tying in with the religious theme of Carrier's speech in the nude, James Owens' oil on paper piece called "Pieta" depicted a reclining man with red marks on his hands, feet and side. Next to him sat a nude woman with a red glass of wine. The piece was gray, except for the splashes of red, and metallic halos around the man and woman's heads.
A photograph that came all the way from Illinois showed four nude women lying on a Chicago sidewalk, while a Japanese artist submitted a photo of a nude woman lying on her stomach.
Artist Steve McLaren of Medford came to Friday's nights exhibit to see the rest of the art on display. He has a copper sculpture of a naked male archer on display at the gallery. He used a torch to cut out the copper, and then used the flame to create highlights of color on the metal.
He said he was concerned about freedom of expression.
"Every time we put another restriction on life, we're kind of defeating life," McLaren said.
Local artist Jean Bakewell said her favorite piece was McLaren's sculpture of the archer. She said she liked the entire exhibit.
"Personally I think it's wonderful, refreshing and original," Bakewell said.
The artwork at the MAda Shell Gallery will be on display again on Friday, Feb. 5 from 5 to 9 p.m. The gallery is located upstairs at 27 1/2 E. Main St. No. 7.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.