The nude model who caused a worldwide stir after a secret photoshoot inside one of Egypt’s most ancient temples landed her in jail has now appeared naked among one of Africa’s most colourful ethnic tribes.
Belgian nude model Marisa Papen, who describes herself as a ‘free-spirited and wildhearted expressionist’, became the centre of a worldwide controversy when she was sent to prison for a photoshoot in the temple complex of Karnak near the Egyptian city of Luxor.
Unperturbed, Papen has opened up on her African trip during which she walked naked among the members of an isolated Ethiopian tribe.
Marisa Papen among members of the Surma tribe in Ethiopia as part of her new collection
Papen walks completely nude behind a herd of cattle in the hills of Ethiopia where the Surma tribe calls home
A naked Papen poses on a rock with three members of the tribe who are all adorned in their traditional attire
Marisa Papen lies naked on the ground inside a hit as a tribeswoman adjusts rocks surrounding the dying embers of a fire
Papen said: ‘They have their own customs and believes, their own beauty-standards, their own religion, living life in harmony with nature and the spirit world.
‘You may say, they are totally different then we are. But to me they are, what we once were. In touch with nature, a part of nature, immensely grateful and respectful towards it.’
Papen travelled with with Australian photographer Jesse Walker to the isolated Omo Valley in south-western Ethiopia, where she lived for a week with the Surma tribe.
Papen said: ‘What we claim to call beautiful in our Western world isn’t quite the same how the Surma tribe pursues beauty.
‘Both Surma men and woman pierce their ears, some woman stretch their lower lip with a plate.
‘They scar their bodies by making little cuts repetitively.’
‘Isn’t it funny we invented all these creams, lasers and other treatments to get rid of ours.’
The Surma have a long history of body painting.
By using pulverised minerals they create drawings and patterns, something which Papen also tried out on her own body.
Papen said: ‘Not only is it an expression of emotion and art, there’s also a more practical reason behind it.
Papen walks away from the camera carrying something on her head
‘Different colours are used for different rituals, to prevent illness, to attract the opposite sex or to relate to family members or certain animals.’
Papen explained that during the first day she did not take the camera out as she wanted first to mingle among the tribe and not to be perceived as a tourist.
She said: ‘As intrigued as I was by their appearance, they were [also intrigued] by me. A month before this trip I decided to shave my head. I figured I’d look less like a stranger, having the same haircut as they do.
‘It worked. Until they touched it. The different texture of my millimetred hair compared to theirs entertained them for a full hour, maybe even longer. At that exact moment their pure energy became truly palpable to me. I literally felt vibrations when some of them were rubbing my head. It was pure magic.’
Every day Papen says her admiration grew as she observed the cultural differences between the Surma and her world.
Papen said: ‘One time I was resting in the shade of a sculptural tree and I was watching two men and a woman from a distance, they were just sitting in the grass, playing with some leaves and collecting some stones. I was trying to go back in my memory and imagine that same exact situation happening in our ‘civilised’ world – I couldn’t.’
Walker, who had photographed Ethiopia’s Omo Valley before, had arranged for a guide who speaks Amharic and Oromo, although the Surma have their own distinct vocabulary.
Papen said: ‘I communicated with them through sign language and tried to mimic their sounds. It was actually not that hard to understand each other because life is so simple there.’
Another difference which Papen noted was how the Surma look at nudity in general.
Marisa Papen, the Belgian nude model, poses with her breasts and face decorated with a female member of the Surma tribe
Papen smokes using a traditional tribal pipe with the member of the Surma during her trip
Papen explained that the tribe members dress according to preference or the situation they are in.
If they are in big groups, they usually cover their genitals, but when they are washing or painting themselves everyone is naked.
Only if they go hunting or go for long hikes through forested areas do they wear a cape as a protective measure.
A female member of the Surma tribe in Ethiopia
Another remarkable difference, according to Papen, is how breastfeeding is seen by the Surma as something natural which can be done in the open, compared to the contradictions on social media and public places in the Western world.
And even though Papen said that only about once or twice a year do Western tourists visit the tribe, she thinks that globalisation might change some of their unique characteristics in the future.
Papen said: ‘Sometimes tourists leave behind Western clothes, and because for them [the Surma] it is of course something exotic so they wear it with lots of pride.’
‘Personally I found that a shame to see, but I fear there is no way back when it comes to this.’
Earlier this month, the nude model revealed she was forced to spend the night in an Egyptian prison cell after being caught during a photoshoot at a temple in Luxor.
Papen had again travelled with photographer Jesse Walker to North Africa for a shoot at some of the most famous landmarks of ancient Egypt.
Having bribed young men patrolling temples in Giza, she narrowly avoided trouble and was able to strip off and pose for photographs.
But when four Egyptian security guards spotted them in Luxor, both Papen and Walker were arrested and locked up.
Belgian nude model Marisa Papen, who describes herself as a ‘free-spirited and wild-hearted expressionist’, pictured here outside a temple in Egypt before she was arrested
The Belgian nude model pictured on the back of a horse with two pyramids peering over the sand in the distance. Having bribed young men patrolling temples in Giza, she narrowly avoided trouble and was able to strip off and pose for photographs
Papen said: ‘The last two years I have walked wild and free in at least 50 countries. Rarely do I end up in precarious situations. Until April this year, in Egypt.’
The nude photo model, from the Flanders region of Belgium, met up in Cairo with photographer Walker who flew in all the way from Australia to do the shoot.
And even though the pair said they were aware of the cultural, political and religious differences between Egypt and the West when it comes to nudity, the adventure ended differently than they both expected.
Early in their trip during the first photoshoot near the famous pyramids of Giza, the two got into trouble.
They reportedly bribed a security guard to start the photoshoot when two other men showed up.
Papen said: ‘I was suddenly completely awake, like a cold shower at 5am in the morning.
‘We tried to explain them that we were making art with the highest respect for Egyptian culture, but they could not see a connection between nudity and art.
‘In their eyes it was porn, or something like that.’
In the end, Papen and Walker managed to stay out of trouble by bribing them with £15.
After Giza, the two travelled to Luxor to visit the vast temple complex of Karnak to shoot pictures with the theme of ‘dance’, which is where their trip unraveled.
When Karnak turned out to be even more guarded than the pyramids at Giza, Papen and Walker had to think of another plan for their shoot.
They decided to hide in the complex just before closing time and to start with the photoshoot ‘making pirouettes in Cleopatra’s footprints’ after all the other people had left.
Papen said: ‘But you can guess what happened next. Busted, once again. And yes, this time we were in some serious trouble.’
Four security guards caught the two and brought them ‘like two beaten dogs’ to the local police.
The Belgian stands at the entrance of a temple in Egypt. Moments later, four security guards spotted them in Luxor, both Papen and her photographer Jesse Walker were arrested and locked up
Papen said: ‘Without being able to share words, I made it clear to Jesse that he had to delete the images if he saw the tiniest opportunity.
‘Otherwise we would be screwed, big time.’
The Egyptian police officers did not believe the two when they told them they were ‘just testing the light’ and ‘did not take any pictures yet’.
The cops forced Walker to strip down to look for a second SD card, but could not find anything.
The duo were brought from one police station to the other and from court to a local cell and back.
Papen said: ‘I knew that a prison in Egypt looks slightly different then in Belgium or any Westernised country but I had no idea what to expect before actually going in.
‘The first cell we encountered was packed with at least 20 men, some were passed out on the floor, some were squeezing their hands through the rails, some were bleeding and yelling.
‘I had never seen something like this before in real life. Jesse kept telling me, ‘Marisa don’t look’ but there was no way not to look.’
After several hours in horrendous conditions in jail Papen and Walker were brought in front of a judge.
Papen said: ‘We kept playing the role of stupid tourists who had no idea dancing in skin-coloured underwear – we had to change up the story a little bit because otherwise we probably would have never gotten out – on Egyptian ground it wasn’t allowed.
‘Our judge was browsing with his big thumbs through these books that looked as old as the pyramids did.
‘Eventually, he gave us a warning and told us never to do something so foolishly shameful ever again. We nodded simultaneously.’
Back in their hotel room, Walker even managed to recover the deleted pictures off the SD card with special software.
Thanks to her quick-witted reaction during her arrest, Papen is now able to proudly share her amazing story and Walker’s magnificent pictures of the nude Egyptian photoshoot.
Papen said: ‘I do think we created something Cleopatra would have been proud of.’