Belgian model raises ire with nude photo overlooking Western Wall
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Belgian model raises ire with nude photo overlooking Western Wall

Marisa Papen says photograph with Jewish holy site in the background designed to challenge ‘boundaries of religion and politics’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Belgian model Marisa Papen poses in front of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 2018 (courtesy: Mathias Lambrecht)
Belgian model Marisa Papen poses in front of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 2018 (courtesy: Mathias Lambrecht)

A Belgian model posed naked recently for a photograph overlooking the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, prompting outrage from the holy site’s rabbi and administrators. Marisa Papen posted the provocative photograph on her website Saturday, along with others taken by photographer Mathias Lambrecht, during a visit to Israel.

In the photograph, Papen leans back on a white plastic chair above a rooftop looking out over the Western Wall and adjoining plaza.

“First of all, ‘don’t judge a book by its title’… This purely implies the shame you, dear reader, (perhaps) will project on me because I have done something so disrespectful, I should burn in hell,” Papen wrote in an NSFW blog post that included the Western Wall photo and others from her time in Israel. “I know my mailbox is about to fill up with threats and angriness [sic] again — to all the people typing down their furiosity [sic] right now, save your energy. I don’t even open them.”

“I knew that I wanted to push the boundaries of religion and politics even further,” she added, after referring to an incident in September 2017, when she spent a night in an Egyptian jail after posing naked for photographs at the Luxor archaeological site.

“Breaking down the walls that have been build to keep all our wandering souls on this planet somehow under control,” she wrote. “With other words, showing my personal religion in a world where freedom is becoming a very luxurious thing.”

The angle of the photo excludes the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount, an area holy to both Jews and Muslims, and many of those who posted comments on her website suggested it was chosen for fear of a backlash from offended Muslims.

Belgian model Marisa Papen poses on a rooftop in the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock in the background, May 2018 (courtesy: Mathias Lambrecht)

But Papen rejected the idea that she and the photographer had purposely excluded the Muslim holy site in the final published shot. “The angle wasn’t deliberate,” she told The Times of Israel Wednesday, explaining that the pair had spent some time looking for a location from which both the Western Wall and the Temple Mount would be visible and had even taken pictures with the Dome of the Rock in the background.

“It was just way better artistically,” she said of the image she and Lambrecht ended up publishing.

The picture, along with others from the visit to Israel, are on display in the Frank Rose Gallery in Knokke, Belgium, in an exhibit titled “Road to Liberation.”

Papen said she was on a three-day trip to Israel that included visits to the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. The model wrote that the photo was taken on Israel’s 70th Independence Day — apparently snapped around May 14, the Gregorian anniversary of Israel’s founding and the day that the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem. It was also the day after Israel marked Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the reunification of the city after the 1967 Six Day War.

Posted by MATHIAS LAMBRECHT on Monday, 11 June 2018

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the Western Wall prayer area and plaza, told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that the shoot was “a grave incident,” while noting that the photograph was taken on “one of the rooftops overlooking the Temple Mount and the Western Wall and not, God forbid, in the Western Wall plaza.”

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich said, “This is an embarrassing incident, grave and lamentable, which offends the sanctity of the site and the feelings of those who visit the holy places.”

Papen said that she did not specifically come to the country with the intention of taking the Western Wall photo, but knew she wanted to make some religious statement that would “push the boundaries.” The model had visited Israel five years ago and said she was impressed with how three religions managed to coexist in Jerusalem’s tiny Old City.

Belgian model Marisa Papen poses on a flagpole near the Dead Sea, May 2018 (courtesy: Mathias Lambrecht)

The provocative photograph was apparently taken on the roof of an apartment above the Simchat Hall venue. Simchat Hall told The Times of Israel that it had no involvement in the photo shoot, and that the apartment above is owned by billionaire Guma Aguiar, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2012. The apartment is unoccupied, a representative from the hall said.

Papen recalled that the sun was so hot that it made the plastic chair she was sitting on flexible, enabling her to lean far back, at a precarious angle. “It was perfect, like it was made for me to sit on it,” she said.

Asked if she plans to visit Israel again, Papen said: “Yes, if I will still be allowed in the county, I would love to. I recently tried to go back to Egypt, but as soon as I landed they scanned my passport and put me on a flight black to Belgium.”

She said she did not intend to offend anyone with the picture.

“I’m sorry for that,” she said. “My intention was to make people see their bodies and the human body in a different way. The human body is a beautiful thing.”

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