Sebastian and Pedro
Julio Lucio and Rafael
Rafa and Lino
Cassia’s Boys, the male nudes of Cassia Tabatini
text by Pablo Leon de la Barra
Cassia Tabatini was born in Monte Alto, Brazil, a small city of 50,000 inhabitants located near Jaboticabal and 370 kms away from the city of Sao Paulo. Although placid and oniric, surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, as soon as she was eighteen Tabatini knew she had to escape, and moved from Monte Alto to Sao Paulo. Four years later she knew she had to move again, and arrived to London on October 4th, 1998, where she studied photography at Central Saint Martins. I had moved to London from Mexico in 1997, a year before Cassia arrived. Unfortunately (because my life would have been much better if I had met her before), I didn’t meet her until much later, around late 2004/early 2005.
Like many other moments in my life, I don’t remember exactly the day we met. She says we met on a fun club night called Boombox which happened on Sunday nights, and that one night she came with Guilherme to a Pablo Magazine launch at George and Dragon or Bistrotheque. She also remembers that I taught her how to work behind the bar at George and Dragon, a job I did from 2003 to 2005, where I worked as barman and curator at the same time. Around that time I attempted to seduce Guilherme, who ignored me, so I decided then to fall in love with Cassia instead. My first memory of her might be at a Brazilian cool club called Guanabara, which at the time had opened in London and had been designed by Gisela Domschke and which had photographs by Marcelo Krasilcic, art works by Alexandre da Cunha, and furniture by Martino Gamper. There, Tabatini together with her friend Lucas Nascimento organized a night called ‘Luxo’ where she exhibited some big, poster like, black and white photographic prints on paper of her friends Lucas, Guilherme, Elaine and of herself, all wearing wigs. I was intrigued, and a few days later visited the house where she was living in Nile Street, and a few months later published the wigs portfolio at Celeste, an arts magazine from Mexico City to which I contributed. A year later I published some beautiful photos she did of Lucas knitting in an issue of Pablo Magazine, the publication on art, men and architecture which I edit. (Fast forward in time to 2011 and Lucas Nascimento went on to become a young respected fashion designer in the Brazilian scene, and named a pair of shoes from his collection 'Cassia', in Tabatini's honour.) Together with designer Fabio Kawallis, Tabatini also began to do her/their own publication, called ‘Fur’, a fanzine printed in newspaper, and containing amazing graphics and work from the group of friends around them and connecting the London and Sao Paulo scenes. On April 2008 I invited Tabatini and Kawallis to exhibit ‘Fur’ and their work at the prestigious White Cubicle Toilet Gallery, which measures 1.40 x 1.40 mts and is located inside the female toilet of the George and Dragon. There they launched a new issue, and covered the toilet with prints and hung wigs from the ceiling. While developing a professional work relationship, Cassia and I became friends. Good friends. Very good friends. As I travel a lot, I would always look forward to being back in London and visiting Cassia, who became my London homegirl.
On October 1st, 2007 Cassia Tabatini moved to Padangle house, a workshop building converted into loft live-work studios, in Kingsland Road, between the Shoreditch and Dalston London neighbourhoods. I would humorously call the building Parangole house, a word game with the favela/performance capes with that name made by Helio Oiticica during the 60s, but also because many other Brazilians lived in the building, including graphic designer Mel Duarte and art curator Kiki Mazzucchelli. For a while there was also an apartment there which was known as Favela Erotica, and which was managed by a pimp called Alvaro. There the interior was occupied by a scaffolding structure which formed subdivisions for living spaces and beds, and where a nomad and always changing Brazilian male population would nest. Cassia's flat in Padangle house became Tabatini’s centre of operations: during the mornings it was her photographic studio but also the playground for her son Nicola, born the 21st of July of 2006. During the afternoons it would become the meeting place where friends from the building would gather to have a cup of tea and exchange the day’s gossip. On special nights, Milo, Cassia’s partner at the time and Nicola’s father, would cook bacalao (salt cod) sent by his mother in Portugal. This was one of my favourite nights, as every time he would cook it in a different way. Other nights it was girls night, and I would feel honoured to be the only male guest among all the Brazilian Amazons. Kiki would be there, Mel and her girlfriend Leo, and also Elaine, and Eliette from band Tetine, and pop star Cibelle. Eliette or Cibelle would sing or dance and we would watch videos and discuss ideas and future plans. Other nights would be men’s night, or men that became women for a night, like on the night of Cassia's babyshower before she moved to Padangle house, when she lived in the shop front that she shared with Leonel in Shacklewell Lane, and where many of her male friends transvestited and became female for the event (some even becoming pregnant) and transformed the house into a Molly House and with it celebrating Cassia's soon to give birth. The last party I remember was a few months ago, on her last birthday, with her flat full of handsome men dancing until very late. Cassia always was the centre of the parties, a natural model and muse, the embodiment of what Alexandre da Cunha calls 'glamour natural'. You could always find her dressed in tiger, cheetah, or leopard prints, or wearing bright yellow jumpsuits covered by fur coats, or otherwise wearing gifts from her friends: kaftans by Dudu Bertholini from Neon, knitwear by Lucas Nascimento, prints by Fabio Kawallis, and jewellery by Diego Cattani. But although it seemed so, everything was not happiness, samba and love in Tabatini's life: Padangle house also became her prison: for 5 years Tabatini could not leave the United Kingdom because she didn’t have a European passport or residence, and risked being deported back to Brazil. Cassia accepted this without ever complaining.
For a few years now Tabatini has been working on 'The Nude Project', inviting many of her friends to pose naked in front of her camera. Like a queen bee, she attracts the most handsome, intelligent and talented men to her hive. In the photographs, there’s Lucas, Guilherme, Pedro and Beto, all creative friends. There's also artist Eli Sudbrack, and makeup artist Lau Neves, and theatre director Victor Esses. Not all the photographed are Brazilian, among others there’s also Milo the bacalao cook, Nuno a stylist from Lisbon and who used to work with us at the George and Dragon, Philippos a Greek-Cypriot dj, and Jonjo a London dj. Then there’s new friends photographed recently in Brazil, when she could finally recover her freedom to move beyond the restrictions of governments and borders. Many of the men photographed are homosexual. For most of them to pose naked in front of a woman allows them to do it without sexual desire, something which probably would not be possible in front of an attractive male photographer. This might allow for the model to drop the guard, and to allow himself to be photographed not as a sexual object, but as he is. But if desire disappears, then it’s substituted for a greater awareness of one’s self. Modern men, homosexual or not, have become as vain and maybe more insecure than women. To be naked means an acceptance of the body, of what you are, and not being afraid of being too thin or too fat, or not muscular enough, of being too hairy, or not hairy enough, but beyond everything, a fear that your non erect cock will look too small. The female photographer could also claim revenge against male culture, with the model now transformed into a prey, and use the camera as a penis to rape them, in revenge for centuries of women living under the control of the masculine gaze. Neither of this happens, instead the space that Tabatini creates between the lens and the body, becomes a space of intimacy, trust, fun and respect. For most of the men photographed, Cassia is more than a friend. Cassia’s nudes also become more than an atlas of different male types, they also represent different ways of being human inside the body. Beyond possible classifications, they are also a documentation of a particular moment within a particular London scene. A scene, which for a period of time rotated around Cassia Tabatini and her men friends. Because of the transient nature of London where people continuously migrate somewhere else or after a few years return to their country of origin, this particular scene will soon disappear before it rearticulates in different ways and in different places. The men photographed will also mature emotionally and physically. Their lives will change. Some will grow old handsome, others old with dignity. Some will fall in love between them, some will die before time, some will disappear in anonymity, while others will be reivindicated by history. Whatever happens, and wherever they go, the future evidence that will remain of their passage through this particular moment in life, will be this frozen moment of time.
Written on February 2nd, 2011, Dia de la Candelaria.
order Cassia's nude project at her website