Nude figures are a visual testimony to society's changing views, both in terms of what is considered beautiful and what is morally acceptable.
Ten years ago, painting nudes in Taiwan was only permitted in university fine-arts classes, and finding a model was nearly impossible. Now, figure studies are popular community classes, and while far from being considered a viable occupation by the majority, plenty of men and women are willing to get naked for a living.
"Since I started [10 years ago], there are more and more women and even men looking for modeling jobs. If they can't find a job with our company they advertise their services at various private studios in Taipei," said Jan Huei-ling (
Jan is a member of Figure Art Studio, the only nude modeling company in Taiwan. The studio acts as an agency for about 20 models. If an artist or an instructor is looking for a model they contact the studio, which then calls Jan. A model is paid NT$2,000 for 3 hours work, earning between NT$15,000 to NT$30,000 a month, depending on how much he or she wants to work. Although it employs five men, women remain the more popular art subjects, said Lai Ni-hua (
Sixteen years ago, Jan established her theater company, Critical Point Theater Phenomenon, but after five years of struggling to pay the bills she took up modeling on the advice of a friend. "I needed money to pay the rent on my theater, but I also needed a job that was flexible with time. And I wanted it to be interesting," she said.
Nude models are no longer spoken of in hushed tones, yet those like Jan who reveal their naked bodies and dare to enjoy it, still meet with opposition from friends and family.
"About 80 percent of Taiwan thinks this job is low-class work and something only bad girls do. Every day my mother says, `you shouldn't do this job.' I've always been a little rebellious. But mostly, I am an actress and I enjoy being watched," she said.
Although she has no qualms about baring her body to a class of 50, her husband wasn't always so receptive to the idea. In the beginning he accompanied her to the studio every day. He grew to accept it and no longer attends the classes. Her four-year-old son, however, now joins her on occasion.
Jan modeled throughout her pregnancy, and would even do sketch classes while breast-feeding, she said.
She's come a long way since her first stint at a university oil painting class. "Jan is quite enthusiastic and one of the most popular models in the city. She is lucky, because even at 39, she looks young," Lai said.
Jan's sense of self-confidence is what makes artists want to paint her, she said. In turn, the experience of being painted has given her more confidence.
"This job helped me build my self-confidence. In the beginning I was a little shy but the artists were so receptive and now they think I am powerful because I inspire them," she said.
She couldn't anticipate any reasons why she would quit her job. Apart from the slightly boring three-hour poses and being cold in winter, she loves what she does.
"Even when I am old and my body is old, I won't stop. I will be a different kind of model, because there are no old models in Taiwan, so I can be the first," she said.
The part-time job has also become a valuable source of research for Jan, who said she is interested in exploring the relationship between body and performance art.