The Limburg n-model Marisa Papen (26) is not shy about a stunt more or less. After her naked passage in, among other places, the Aya Sofia mosque in Istanbul and the wailing wall in Jerusalem, the woman and her photographer went to Rome. There they organized a controversial photo shoot in Vatican City. The police, however, could not laugh with it and threw the duo in the cell.
The photo shoot took place at the end of November, but Papen did not tell the story of her adventures in Rome on her website until today. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she negotiates with a gallery that wants to organize an exhibition around her religious triptych FXCKRLGN (‘Fu!ck Religion’, ed.).
With her recent photo shoot in the Vatican City, Papen wants to expose the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. The report is the latest in the FXCKRLGN series, which also includes her photo shoots about Islam in Istanbul and Judaism in Israel. With the photos, the naked activist wants to “break down the walls around religion and encourage people to think for themselves and to see all the darkness that takes place around religion,” she explains.
For the FXCKRLGN photo shoots, Papen worked with the Australian photographer Jesse Walker, who she thinks is the perfect partner-in-crime for the controversial recordings. “We work so well together and are both so stress resistant”, it sounds, “it just works really well.”
Papen produces her photo shoots completely herself. Together with Walker she takes care of all the props and chooses the locations herself. The giant wooden cross built by Walker himself during a stay in Bali and he brought it to Rome for the report. But also, fake blood, priest robes, bibles, rosaries, thorn wreaths and even a black child Jesus came to this project. “This photo shoot was a slightly larger production than I normally am used to, but I found it tremendously fascinating,” she says.
Day of cell
On the third day of the reportage, however, things went wrong when Papen crouched naked on a pile of bibles in the early morning on St. Peter’s Square. The police arrived and picked up the duo. They flew into the cell for ten hours and their AirBnB was searched. To their surprise, the agents found the bizarre props that the duo had prepared for the photo shoot.
In the end Papen and Walker were allowed to go after the registration of their fingerprints and a mugshot. “My first mugshot, that was also an experience”, it sounds slightly proud. The duo was obliged to sign a document in Italian, of which no one could tell them in English what it contained. In retrospect it appeared that they might still be called to appear before the Italian court for “obscene facts”. So, the arrest may still have a tail.
The next day the two were almost picked up again when a naked Marisa, only with a paternoster and a pair of red pumps, got out of a taxi, but they put it on a walk and could escape the police.
I am pretty fearless. We always believe that we are working on something that has a greater power than we realize ourselves. We just go with it and I’m not afraid.
It is not the first time that Papen ended up in the cell. In April 2017 she spent a night in an Egyptian prison after a photo shoot in a temple near Luxor. “I’m pretty fearless”, says Papen. “We always believe that we are working on something that has a greater power than we realize ourselves. We just go with it and I’m not afraid.” Moreover, the Italian cell was not so bad: “Being stuck in a European country is a completely different experience for a woman than in Egypt.”
In her photo shoot in the Vatican City, Papen goes further than ever: she also addresses the abuse within the Catholic Church and does so with a series of shocking photographs in which she is abused by priests. In her own words she does so to express her “sympathy” to everyone who was a victim of the Church. “Sexually, mentally or physically”, she writes on her website.
“For a number of months, I had the idea of being raped effectively by a cross, by the church, by religion,” says Papen from LA, but she also wanted a really artistic report. “And then it all came together with that candlelight and those priests. It came out better than I could have visualized. It is indeed intense and they are other photographs than I normally create, but I also want to push myself to be innovative and to dare more and to have no rules for myself.”
I thought religious people were opposed to nudity anyway, but apparently there were a large number of Catholic fans among whom I am probably lost now.
The reactions are predominantly positive, although there is quite a bit of criticism from a Catholic angle. “I did not know that I had so many Catholic fans”, the N-model responds laconically. When she opened her mailbox this morning, there appeared to be several hate mails. Fans who normally email her enthusiastically almost every week are now very shocked. “I thought that religious people are in any case opposed to nudity, but apparently there were a large number of Catholic fans among whom I am probably lost.” 70 percent of the fans, however, react enthusiastically, even photographers and other artists who themselves appreciates and that does good.
The theme of religion is now closed with regard to Papen. “I want to do new things, I do not want to repeat myself, so I think I will focus more on the welfare of the planet and animal rights etc”, concludes the nook activist.
View the full photo series on her website.