Uproar Over Use Of Nude Models To Raise Funds For AIDS

Culture minister, others assail plan to assist AIDS hospice by auctioning prints of famous people posing in the buff

The abbot of a Lop Buri temple that serves as an AIDS hospice said yesterday he would refuse any proceeds from a controversial auction of nude celebrity photos planned by an entertainment magazine.

Abbot Prah Alongkut made a brief statement, saying he was informed only that morning that Fame magazine wanted to raise funds to support the temple's work by taking bids for centrefold photos of some leading actresses and that he was disturbed by the damaging publicity that the charity project had generated.

However, it was not certain what kind of further controversy the abbot's rejection would create, as it is against Buddhist principles to turn down donations.

Penpak Sirikul, one of the models, insisted that her intentions were well-meant. "I don't have any hidden agenda."

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"People are born naked," she said. "This is the art of women's beauty."

She also lashed out at critics of the project, asking them what they have done for the cause. She defended the project, saying this was the quickest way to raise money and get it to AIDS victims.

She dismissed suggestions that posing in the buff would set an example for the younger generation to emulate, saying they can think for themselves.

"Not all people are stupid."

The undertaking brought some 30 models and celebrities to take nude pictures to be featured at the Fame Erotica exhibition open to the public from April 5-9 at CentralWorld.

The one-metre-square nude pictures are scheduled to be put up for bidding to raise funds for AIDS patients at Lop Buri's Phrabath Namphu Temple and Nonthaburi's Bamraj Naradoon Hospital.

It's not known if the Nonthaburi hospital would feel the same way about the project as the temple.

Culture Minister Khunying Khaisri Sri-aroon called the project inappropriate, as some photos and poses were provocative. She urged the celebrities to use their fame in other merit-making methods.

Khaisri said she understood the models' and celebrities' wishes to act for a charitable cause, raising money for AIDS patients, but the approach of taking nude pictures - some reportedly struck suggestive poses as in pin-up calendars - was not proper.

The celebrities already had the public glued to their every move, she said, and should find another way to raise funds.

Prisana Pongtadsirikul, secretary-general of the National Culture Commission, said that being charity-minded was good but their deeds should also be responsible to the whole society. She said the ministry had been trying to promote polite and traditional Thai-style clothing ahead of the Thai New Year festival, so she would prefer these public figures to set good examples for youths nationwide.

She said that they should have chosen other fund-raising activities and asked why the celebrities did not take photos with their clothes on or wear Thai clothing instead. She also suspected that this move might be driven by commercial interests or was a PR stunt for the participants to gain more publicity.

Ladda Tangsupachai, director of the Culture Watch Centre, said she understood the good intentions of the organiser and celebrities but they might lack cultural understanding that merit-making money should be earned from decent methods and sources. She also expressed concern that the affair might confuse young people who have been criticised for wearing revealing clothes.

Ladda also said that the case was discussed at a meeting of the committee for safe and constructive media, which was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham, and committee members just shook their heads in disagreement with such a "benefit".

Former senator Rabiebrat Pongpanit, president of the Happy Family Association, slammed the models and celebrities for resorting to taking their clothes off for a good cause, which would create a bad example for Thai youths.

Rabiebrat said that she felt hurt that the famous people used charity as an excuse to stoop to this behaviour. She said they should have done something else.

"The monks [at Phrabath Namphu Temple] must feel uncomfortable to accept donated money from this, but being Buddhist monks taught not to be choosy in merit-taking, he would have to take it. This charity project is not a good example. They don't seem to think things through," she said while urging the Culture Ministry to act upon it.

Venerable Phramaha Samai Jintakosako from the Saeng Thian Foundation said that, while helping AIDS patients was great merit, taking nude pictures was inappropriate and against Thai culture and tradition. He said this even put Phrabath Namphu Temple in a negative light because the money came from an activity against good tradition and thus was "ungraceful" and a bad example. He urged the project participants not to jeopardise the good image of Buddhist monks who devoted themselves to caring for AIDS patients. He expressed concern that if this could not be stopped, someone might produce nude VCDs to raise funds for charity in the future.

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