Building community and getting naked
DRY PAINT: Dry latex comes off in the same way a sheet-peel might.
Nudity en-masse. Full-body shaving sessions. Water breaks. These are just a few elements of 2023’s build-up of a student-run tour-de-force: Brandeis Liquid Latex, a 23-plus-year University tradition in which student participants strip down, spend hours painting themselves in upwards of five coats of liquid latex, and perform a coordinated dance routine for an audience of their peers.
This year’s Liquid Latex performance took place in Levin Ballroom on March 31, to wild success. “We killed it,” said participant Astrid Schneider ’24 in an April 1 text correspondence. Schneider was painted as a “Magic Mike”-inspired praying mantis; they had designed the latex costume themself.
According to BrandeisNow, the club was formed by Alaric Toy ’00 and Sharon Gobuty ’00 as a part of the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts, and was originally created “purely for arts sake.” Later, in 2010, the organization was honorably mentioned on Playboy Magazine’s website for “Best College-Supported Art Project: Brandeis’ Liquid Latex Body Art Show'' in a ranking of party opportunities at colleges and universities around the country. But for participants and executive board members passing the paint-smothered torches down from year to year, Liquid Latex is so much more than just an art project or rager: it acts as a space for individuals to find connection, celebrate their bodies, and exist free from expectations and sexualization. The New York Times wrote about Liquid Latex’s 2016 performance, which it said “touches this generation” in its abstract interpretation of mental health and illness.
Yet at the same time, the event also provides a space for silliness. “I was humping the floor, humping the air, everything,” Schneider said of their 2023 performance.
“It’s the best thing I’ve done at Brandeis,” said Liquid Latex president Caroline Hall ’23 in an April 2 interview. Hall said she first heard about the club from a campus guide while touring Brandeis and was interested in participating “from that moment.” But after the pandemic hit, Liquid Latex was put on hold in 2020 and 2021 — Hall and others involved were forced to put the painting plans on hold.
In 2022, Liquid Latex came back to Brandeis with a bang. Spearheaded by Amber Bartlett ’22, Hall said the show centered around themes of transition and represented Bartlett’s experiences “moving on to a new chapter.”
“Going into it last year, I was very hesitant. I knew I was gonna do it, but it’s a vulnerable situation. And I had never been that vulnerable with random strangers before in my life. But the e-board just embodied the values I needed to make me feel safe,” Hall said of the experience. Boosted by their support and the positivity of putting on the show, Hall decided to run for club president — and won.
“I love organizing things,” Hall said of what compelled her to take on the role. “And I have a background in dance. I did dance, really intensely — ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, the whole nine yards. It was intense and I didn’t have a great relationship with it or my body. And so with Latex, I was looking to heal my relationship with my body, and my dance, and it was so rewarding.”
Hall also described an intensive lead-up to the Liquid Latex show: the individual rehearsals — this year there were four total dance routines — the 'undress rehearsal,' and the body painting sessions. “The individual choreography learning process happens over a month and a half before the show. It’s a chance for everyone to get really comfortable in their groups, and because it’s not super serious, it’s more about the positivity than the dance. It creates this low-pressure environment that lets people know it’s okay to make mistakes and to not be perfect,” Hall said. “And the ‘undress rehearsal’ is always an interesting time. We do the 'undress rehearsal' in pasties and underwear the night before. It’s to get everyone feeling comfortable doing the show, and it’s the first moment where you really realize everyone’s bodies are just bodies. Getting over that hump, people become more comfortable taking their clothes off the next night.”
Schneider agreed. “It’s cool to just be able to see everyone else and think, wow, bodies are so beautiful … it desexualizes them, but it also makes you appreciate the aesthetic of a body,” they said of the 'undress rehearsal'. Of the show the following night, they described a very engaged crowd. “It was a pretty full house.”
A critical part of what makes Liquid Latex safe and enjoyable for those involved are the boundaries: photography is limited, consent for all touching is imperative, and the club has multiple members in charge of security throughout the day. “There’s a lot of rules — what you can and cannot record, touching people, but overall, while it seems like a lot of rules, they’re very easy to follow. Everyone is able to make others feel safe,” Hall said.
The latex paint itself is also a much-discussed medium. Not fabric, but not regular paint either, the latex acts as a kind of second skin to those wearing it – hence the necessary full-body shave beforehand, or getting a strip wax when it’s time to take the paint off. “It feels like the hardest tank top you’ve ever worn,” said Zoe Popovic ’23 in an April 3 text correspondence with the Justice. “You have to stick out your stomach because if you’re flexing, you’ll get stuck in that position.”
“It reaffirms the idea of a complete embrace of oneself without shame as you aren’t being fitted for a costume or expected to find one in a communal closet,” Allison Weiner ’25 said of the latex paint. “The paint will always fit you perfectly, no matter your size.”
Ultimately, Liquid Latex participants said that the organization wasn’t about the final performance: rather, all the parts and pieces that went into it, from self-acceptance to building trust with peers. “In one sense, it’s like, looking around and realizing that everyone is just a body. Everyone’s just an organ. Bodies are vessels for everyone's unique personalities,” Hall said. “And that's something I always kept as a value, but until that moment [participating in Liquid Latex in 2022], I didn't understand what that meant. But … It's made my relationship with my own body really healthy. My body’s doing all this work for me.”
— Editor's note: Justice Production Assistant Noah Risley contributed to the reporting of this story.