"No diguises, no posturing, no bull..."

by Lingbo Li

Fred Ho, in the flesh.

I'm not sure what to expect when I meet Fred Ho. The only publicity shot I had seen of him up until then was him naked and painted green, holding a saxophone. As he explains later, he's a Luddite and a nudist, who only agrees to prearranged photoshoots on the condition that he is naked. Which explains this photo - the green color was chosen by the photographer.

He explains, "The nudity is an expression of ethics. Nothing to hide, no disguises, no posturing, no bullshit."

Ho, however, is a bundle of contradictions. Despite his nudism, he enjoys designing his own clothes. Today, he's wearing a colorful vest made from children's kimono fabric and shoes he also designed himself. He wears round, wire rim glasses and speaks with a low, gravelly voice. His music is seemingly equally contradictory: he fuses traditional African and Asian music.

Ho graduated from the College in 1976 - and he's back to receive the 2009 Harvard Arts medal, with the Office of the Arts commissioning him a jazz orchestra piece which will feature choreography as well as music. He has a matter of fact way of speaking which reflects his toughness and perspective after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006.

"It's really about the journey, about the birth of a new Fred Ho," he tells me about the OFA-commissioned piece titled "Take the Zen Train." "Zen train means it's not necessarily a journey with a final singular destination. That perhaps this is a journey to explore infinity and possibility ... a journey can be twisty and bumpy."

I can understand a bit of what he's getting at, but I realize suddenly how deeply I'm entrenched in the status quo that's he's going against. What's his current journey? "I'm on a journey to eliminate ego, get off the treadmill, to do the art and politics that no one else can or will do, to carry no baggage, to be a Luddite," he says.

As for what his time at Harvard taught him, he offers, "I learned what I did not want to be. I did not want in any way to participate in the status quo."

Next up: Fred Ho on his Chinese American identity.

[Caption: Fred Ho, in the flesh.]