Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Fred Nile MLC (member of the Legislative Council — the New South Wales upper house) has damned an exhibition of photographs without having seen them, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. No doubt one of his staffers visited Gosford — about 90 minutes north of Sydney — and gave him more information than he could have gleaned from the reporter, Joanne McCarthy.

In her report, she describes the furore over the exhibition, at a regional gallery.

The photographer, Polixeni Papapetrou, relied on her own, seven-year-old daughter to model for the camera. The report is accompanied by a photo of the curator with fuzzy images of some of the offending photographs in the background. Hence, we can't judge them either. There have been complaints about Bill Henson also.

A Woy Woy mother of an eight-year-old girl said the images "make me uncomfortable". Despite this, she did not agree with removing the photos. "If this photo was in a cafe or a shopping centre that would be wrong but this is an art gallery and it does make you think," she said.

On the same day, in The Australian, there is a story about the rape and murder, by a Palm Island man, of a 14-month-old girl who "had been left with her alleged attacker for only a short while, her mother trusting her new partner while she took a stroll on a still Monday night in Cairns".

Palm Island is a contentious Aboriginal settlement. It has been in the news for years since the death of a man while in police custody.

In a paper that I just found online, Dr Ann Elias, a Sydney University academic, says:

Every attempt to censor the rights of artists to freedom of expression in Australia in the last twenty years, including complaints about the exploitation of adolescents in Bill Henson’s work, the cancellation of Sensation by the Australian National Gallery, the removal of Juan Davilla’s painting Stupid as a Painter from the 1982 Biennale of Sydney by the police after moral outrage at its sexual references, is evidence that contemporary art can be confronting on grounds of sex, religion, gender and race. But it is the negative social and artistic impact of public pressure to make contemporary art conform to conventional public levels of acceptability that motivated film-maker Dennis O’Rourke to state recently that ‘any artist, if they’re not controversial, they’re not doing their job’, and accounts for art critic, Peter Hill, commenting that ‘one of the greatest problems artists face is how to remain subversive while all around them critics, curators and dealers are trying to make them orthodox’.

Having recently visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to view Davila's latest exhibition, and having seen many Henson photographs in major galleries over the years, it would have seemed that this type of censorship was a thing of the past. Apparently not. But without the means to judge, it is difficult to make a call either way.

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