As the sun rises over the salty waters of the Dead Sea this Saturday morning, so too will about a thousand naked Israelis and tourists between the ages of 18 and 77 – half women, half men.

The southern odyssey will be the culmination of the highly controversial “Naked Sea” project of American nude installation designer and photographer-videographer Spencer Tunick, who said he was inspired by the region’s beauty and was interested in drawing attention to the need to preserve the body of water.

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Initially envisioned by Tunick and his friend, Tel Aviv resident Ari Fruchter, the project continues to face much protest against the nudity that the artwork will entail, with particularly vocal and ongoing criticism from Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev. Tunick has been photographing and videotaping nude installations since 1992, and since 1994 has designed 75 temporary, site-specific installations all over the world, many of which have been to promote social causes, according to his website.

The project was officially launched alongside a Kickstarter fundraising campaign at the end of April, which reached its fundraising goal of $60,000 by June 6, and to date has $116,270 with 706 backers, 26 of which gave $1,000 or more, according to the project’s Kickstarter website.

Amid the controversy surrounding the installation, reports said the Western Dead Sea Megilot Regional Council decided on Wednesday to withdraw funding it had promised for the Saturday dawn event.

In response, lawyer and legal consultant to the project Dafna Holtz Lachner said such a decision would be up to the High Court of justice to decide.

“The High Court defends its rulings on the principle of freedom of expression and freedom of creativity that is derived from it,” Holtz Lachner said in a statement. “In this artistic project there is an additional prominent factor of public interest that is central to the project – the protection of natural resources of the Dead Sea and the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. The State of Israel was blessed with the opportunity to host an international artist who is making the Dead Sea a center of public interest throughout the world and is providing a one-time opportunity to raise awareness and importance of the Dead Sea as a first-rate tourist site, which can yield much international attention and encourage tourism to the state.”


For 25-year-old participant Raffe Gold taking the trip to the Dead Sea to partake in the installation means promoting Israel’s unique stance as a liberal democracy in a less-thanfree region.

“Tunick’s reasons for doing the photo shoot, highlighting the rapidly dwindling Dead Sea and a variety of other environmental reasons, are incredibly important,” Gold, a social media manager, said Thursday.

“However, I am doing it because I believe strongly that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that could have a mass-nude photo shoot. This photo shoot is not just about freeing the human body but freeing the human spirit and allowing us to express ourselves, which is what Israel is meant to stand for.”

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