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A body of work

Danielle Zabielski, '17, focuses her artwork on the human body (Photos by Corinne Sinesi, '19).
Written by Corinne Sinesi

Danielle Zabielski, ’17, on painting nude portraits


In a former fraternity house on Woodbine Avenue resides Danielle Zabielski, ’17, who has made an art den out of her small turquoise bedroom. Canvases not only embellish her walls but also lean up against all the wall space she owns. She smooths out an old, dirty sheet that she claims has saved the life of her security deposit and gets to work painting nude Saint Joseph’s University students right in the middle of her room.

Zabielski is an artist on campus who has been specializing in the beauty of human bodies in order to come to terms with negative body image.

“I first started painting myself because you’re always your most available model,” she said. “It was hard at first but worth it to confront my issues and honestly portray them with paint.”

Zabielski started painting last January when someone told her to pick up a canvas and do with it what she wished. After months of getting deeper into a love for art, painting bodies came naturally to her. She’s been doing it for eight months now.

Painting nude self-portraits began as a form of release for Zabielski.

“When I was younger I always had issues with body image which led to even greater issues,” she said. “This has changed the way I look at myself.”

After going through the motions of growing up with the self-deprecation that accompanies adolescence, discovering recognition and love for her physical form gave Zabielski newfound confidence. She wanted others to feel the same acceptance, so she started painting friends and anyone else who would volunteer for this body image project.

“I notice that with that bodily nakedness comes emotional nakedness; people are more willing to be vulnerable which is something I love,” Zabielski said.

Yaa McNeil, ’17, is one of Zabielski’s many supporting models.

“I’m working on acceptance and ownership of my body and all the curves that come with it,” McNeil said. “Posing nude was just a part of my journey to accepting my body for what it is.”

One of the many paintings Danielle Zabielski has completed.

Zabielski and McNeil agree that the naked body is not an inherently sexual object. If there’s one thing that’s universal about human beings, it’s that we were all birthed from a woman, and we should collectively work towards normalizing nudity in all forms, shapes and sizes.

“You would think that in 2017 we would be a little farther along with that,” she said. “To express messages through the body is a way everyone can understand them.

Although Zabielski’s art belongs to her above anyone else, support from others is important and all opinions do matter, but they won’t change things, she said.

“Everyone I talk to loves Danielle’s art. She’s talented on so many levels that I think whatever she puts out is great,” McNeil said. “My mom wasn’t too happy though.”

As much as nudity can come as a shock to more traditional individuals, Zabielski has the support of many people at St. Joe’s.

“When I first brought a nude piece into class, I realized it obviously looked exactly like a vagina during my critique, and I took a step back and was like ‘oh my god, he’s a priest,’” Zabielski said about her professor, Dennis McNally, S.J., Ph.D. “I tried to go around the fact that I painted a vagina and he was like, ‘no, do more. Do a man with a banana.’”

She laughs about this interaction with her professor, but genuinely feels lucky to have encountered such an accepting and supportive individual of all art forms.

Zabielski is currently in her first painting class as a senior but has found a lot of happiness in the class and recommends it to everyone.

She typically paints women; however, she welcomes everyone to join her for an afternoon of painting in their most vulnerable states.

“I really want to paint anyone,” she said. “It’s just fun.”

About the author

Corinne Sinesi

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