By Valerie Lay
Encircled by drawing benches in the centre of a chilly room, Sharmeen (not her real name) — having disrobed to stark nakedness — adopts a pose, her face devoid of expression as more than 20 students meticulously sketched her form on newsprint paper.
It has been six years since the 35-year-old started modelling nude at NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media (ADM).
Every student enrolled in ADM is required to take core modules Foundation Drawing I and II for the first and second semester respectively. Basic skill sets on observational drawing — such as figure drawing, which require nude models as a study of human form — are taught in these courses.
Sharmeen had taken up nude modelling as a sideline to supplement her income from being a freelance videographer.
Apart from Sharmeen, there are also other male and female models who take part in the course. Each would pose for 20 to 30 minutes in the four-hour tutorial, changing poses every five to 10 minutes.
During these sessions, Sharmeen would take the time to focus on her breathing and mentally work on her videography assignments. She finds that this side gig as a nude model complements her main profession as a videographer.
“Modelling sessions across various art schools in Singapore have helped me to learn better on design aspects such as form, composition, structure and more, which helps me in my videography works. It’s like a free art education I can’t afford,” said Sharmeen.
“Being part of these sessions has given me a kind of education any art student in Singapore would not have gotten, but in my opinion, should,” she added.
To Sharmeen, drawing a nude model helps an artist to learn about anatomy, contours and proportion through the way light is cast on the body. It serves as a learning tool, yet it is commonly misintepreted or categorised with erotica, she added.
“There’s a distinctive difference between nude art and erotica. Nude modelling comes from (a position) of strength, where it serves as a tool to educate. Whereas for erotica, the subject is seen as vulnerable hence there’s a strong division between both.”
In her six years of nude modelling, Sharmeen has received her fair share of unpleasant memories.
To her, one of the toughest aspects of being a nude model is getting paid late. “Because we’re not seen as professionals or as people with bills to pay. It’s not funny,” said Sharmeen.
Furthermore, as nude models are required to bare all, they also have to deal with insults and criticisms about their bodies.
“There was once I was modelling nude and this man started insulting my body in Mandarin, calling me skinny and disgusting to draw. He was clueless that I understood everything,” she said.
“As a woman, one has to be in control and accepting of her body, which, I find, many don’t.”
She is also careful of the people she tells about her side job, only choosing to share this with her close friends.
“My close friends who know tend to get very curious and ask me questions like, ‘What do you do when (you are) itchy? Or when you need to fart?’ I tell them I just do,” she said.
Despite it being a secondary source of income, Sharmeen has taken a lot more from the job.
“A cool thing is also that I end up being close friends with the people I meet in this sideline,” she added.
Recalling a particularly memorable episode, she said: “(Once,) I was totally nude with just Lady Gaga makeup, wig and shoes. The session was three hours long, and her songs were playing on loop.
“After the session ended, students were running to me and saying, ‘Oh my God! You really look like Lady Gaga!’, and that was really unforgettable.”