In the photo, Sibby is surrounded by greenery and she's holding a multicolored umbrella. Her smile is bright and wide as she's been captured in mid-frolic. Sibby at the time the photo was taken was 82, and she — like all of the subjects of "The Century Project" — is completely nude.
"The Century Project," which will be on display at Rhodes College starting Monday, was begun by Frank Cordell 25 years ago. The women photographed for the project range in age from newborn to nearly 100 years old, and they are of all races and come from different religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Some are disabled, others have suffered from sexual abuse or have struggled with bulimia, cutting, and anorexia. Many joyfully expose themselves simply for the experience.
"It wasn't as if a lightbulb came on," Cordell says of his decision to start "The Century Project." "It was an intersection of pathways." Chief among those pathways was a trip to Europe shortly after Cordell graduated from college in the '60s. He was at a spa in Germany surrounded by naked people. "Age didn't matter or gender or attractiveness. No one was taking notice," Cordell recalls. "The one exception — that would be me, the American."
The experience, Cordell says, freed him to begin "The Century Project," which aims to challenge peoples' perceptions of beauty and what is "taboo." Children should never be viewed without clothes, old women should be ignored, mastectomies are grotesque, Cordell says of society's mores. The exhibit puts viewers face-to-face with notions that tend to crumble with contemplation.
But, just to be safe, Cordell posts a sign at the entry of each of his exhibits to let people know what is to come. "'The Century Project' is not for everyone, let's face it," he says. "I think the people who do come are self-selecting, as it should be."
An opening reception for "The Century Project" will be held on Monday, February 23rd, from 6 to 8 p.m. in Hyde Hall of the Burrow Refectory at Rhodes College. Frank Cordell will be at the opening, and his book "Bodies and Souls: The Century Project" will be available for purchase. The exhibit runs through February 27th. thecenturyproject.com.