More Art Censorship

Another exhibition has been censored in Australia. In the same month that Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform was censored by Melbourne City Council. Again this has been due to a single a complaint about nudity in photographs. But this time the NSW Police has supported the censorship shutting down the exhibition. And this time it is an internationally known photographer, Bill Henson and Roslyn Oxley9 gallery, a major Sydney commercial gallery.

For the news story read: Photographer Bill Henson exhibition under investigation

The last time that NSW Police were stupid enough to venture into art censorship in 1982, was also at Roslyn Oxley Gallery. Then they fueled the career of painter Juan Davila. I don’t know what they hope to achieve this time as Bill Henson’s career is well established, but the price of his photographs is sure to rise with the increased controversy. It will also increase the long held reputation of Australia being a country of prudish philistines.

“The discussion about Stupid as a Painter in the press and in the art scene was predictably ‘Is it art or is it pornography’, only a repetition of the long history of censorship in Australia.” Juan Davila (Hysterical Tears, 1985, p.13)

The discussion about the Bill Henson exhibition will, unfortunately, be same. The claims of morality and protecting people underlying censorship are hypocritical considering Australia’s record of genocide, war crimes and brutalisation of refugees (including children) in Australian concentration camps. It is not surprising that nudity in art is being regularly censored in Australia as it helps maintaining the failed illusion of decency.

The parrots of Australian politics came out to show their hypocrisy, ignorance and philistine attitudes. Leading the charge was the ever-righteous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Bill Henson’s photographs –  “I find them absolutely revolting.”  NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he found the exhibition “offensive and disgusting”. NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell followed the trend condemned the exhibition. If this is Rudd’s real opinion of Henson’s photographs what level of revolting, beyond the absolute, does he have for his US allies torture program or the abuse of children by Catholic priests? Or are those things less revolting to Rudd? He certainly acts that way.

And so the real reason for the police raid is to help these slimy politicians make themselves appear like moral leaders. It is difficult to make an Australian politicians with no regards for human rights appear moral but beating up an artist over nudes is probably the best way to do it.

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

14 responses to “More Art Censorship

  • Chris Flack

    This has nothing to do with censorship, they are nude photos of children, get caught with these on your hard drive and you are a pedophile, hang them in a gallery and call it art?, The “Master” photographer Henson might be getting his picture taken soon by the police and may even spend some time in a place where pedophiles are not treated too well .

  • Melanie

    Well said. It’s a beat up fueled by nutters and talk-back radio callers who haven’t been near a gallery in years (if ever) and the polititians are tripping over themselves to score political points.

  • Ace

    Henson, in a gallery, and the NSW police… this is rediculous. Are they going to close down adult book stores, confiscate dirty magazines from petrol stations and raid the back of video stores? Oh no, they dont have a problem with pornography, just art.

  • Cecilia Fogelberg

    I am so angry! I wrote about it on my blog and I made a link to your text hope thats ok.

  • culture vulture

    this is too shameful that our PM said that Henson’s work is ‘revolting’ and screwed up his nose so those wathching would have no doubt about his emotional reaction to the subject. I cringed and felt nausea at how how PM shows his absolute ignorance and hypocrisy and when can we expect to have anyone intelligent and humanist in politics!??? Its too terrible that the gallery and Henson have to resort to defend themselves, the lawyers will love the extra work & money and the police at the end of it will fail miserably. Henson’s work will rise in value and get even more free publicity than could he ever have expected. There are Henson’s works in the foyer at the Westin Hotel in Melbourne which people walk past no noticied. I think now they will take a long long look and discuss and that is a good thing ! Keep the people talking but the focus should be on those abusing children and not art and galleries who are putting our inner souls on exhibition in all their beauty and blackness : perhaps what Rudd saw in the pictures if he has even bothered to look at them, is what he found in his own mind … maybe his thoughts should be censored and not the art and what is wrong an adolescent body that it should be called ‘revolting’. there is more hard being done by the self righteous making teens more self conscious than ever

  • Lee Boonekamp

    Who are these idiots who run around determining what art is supposed to be, anyway? The majority of artists who get any recognition in in this country have to go to Europe or the States to earn their fame, only to get their arse kicked in this dim, lapping backwater where everything happens 50 years later. Most of Australian art history is stifled,retarded and non-eventful, full of censorship, Don’t take my word for it, put down your can of beer, turn off the ‘footy’ and pick up a book on Australian Art History. If you can get through the first 3 chapters without any sense of; So, when is it all going to start to happening? the conditions here are just perfect fot you.

    Even Tina Arena told the world that ol’ Johnny Howard was a cultural retard when he was around (remember?) And the public outrage she caused ( naughty girl) ; incidently she is extremely popular in Europe, fully booked with gala shows and the like. She comes home occassionally to visit the rellies.

    The point I’m trying to make? Well… just because Kev is a middle lefty and speaks Manderin, doesn’t mean he’s got cultural aspirations, but he does have his Aussie political correctness down pat and that’s great for us Ozzies not for current art. One needs to move out of here and go where its all happening. The problem of course is; that’s what every intelligent Aussie is doing (including myself) and a lot of us don’t come back eventhough we love our country, but not the opportunities it has to offer.

    This is called brain drain and to compensate for this, the government of Australia imports (to their criteria) the migrants along with everything else we need, who are supposed to replace us Aussies and everything we don’t manufacture which in turn causes more problems, which cause as much media furore as an art show.

    Just imagine; driving along the freeway to work, past a giant bill board with a smiling ‘bikinied bird’ with a phone number and text how to achieve longer lasting sex, and little Marsha in the backseat asks what it all means.

    This is all right< it drives the economy; people are paying taxes and most of all: Its NOT ART. (Heavens, it might challenge the thought processes)

    Mixed messages are all around us calling on sleaze to promote a product which everyone excepts as quite normal, as long it doesn’t allow one to practice post-modern perception.

    So…. What sort of culture do we have , folks?
    Yes that’s right ! A container culture. A bare-arsed modernist, minimalist, doing the least possible, culture. With absolutely no brain activity.

  • Rich Houseman

    Who are these idiots who run around determining what art is supposed to be, anyway?

    Apparently, its the prime minister and the police.

  • Rich Houseman

    I think it’s important to protect children – they have a right to grow up in a society where they can be free, where they do not have to live under the threat of accusations of being sexual perverts, where they can visit an art gallery or even say what they think without the risk of a police raid. That is the stake for our children in this debate, and Mr Rudd is failing in his duty to stand up for our children. Thanks for fighting this as well.

  • Dianne Gall

    I am embarrassed to be an Australian :( Once again! These prudish over-reactive nutters have not the sense to separate what is child pornography and what is art. Where have these so called guards of innocence been for the last decades whilst Henson has been creating these consensual images of disassociated youth??? They have proved they aren’t very good at being the watchdog if they’ve taken this long to be ‘aware’…I mean there was the Levis commercials a few years back that put his work in the broader community, didn’t notice him then….what about hanging in the State NSW Gallery…didn’t notice them then??? It is really a case of uneducated, ill-informed ranters who need to bleet about something. I think it is their minds that are twisted to think of pornography when looking at Henson’s work, not us artists who look with a view of beauty and the beginnings of decay in these works. In other countries, European ones in particular, they are not embarrased by their bodies they were born in and can feel ‘adult’ enough to be naked in communal spas without feeling its a sexual thing. This country needs to grow up, get some maturity and learn some history, culture and ethnology. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the protection of the innocent but going after Henson is the wrong ground to fight the battle on.

  • Russell Blackford

    Well, I hope all those people who so happily voted for Rudd now realise, after this latest debacle that you weren’t voting for the Cool Guy, or for the saviour of Australian politics, but for a deeply conservative, god-bothering moralist. He had plenty of form long before this (e.g from the therapeutic cloning debate). Admittedly, I voted for him, too, since the alternative was even worse, but let’s all get it into our heads once and for all that Rudd is not the sophisticated, progressive, liberal-minded leader that Australia needs. If you value art, science, and liberty, smiling Kev is not your man. Where we will find such a man, or woman, I don’t know.

  • alice

    “…….but let’s all get it into our heads once and for all that Rudd is not the sophisticated, progressive, liberal-minded leader that Australia needs……..Where we will find such a man, or woman, I don’t know.”

    I do………in the art world!!!

  • Lizzie Hall

    ‘perhaps what Rudd saw in the pictures if he has even bothered to look at them, is what he found in his own mind … maybe his thoughts should be censored and not the art ‘…..
    Charging Rudd with sexual perversions because of his opinions is no better than others charging Henson with the same. This kind of response to the police raid on Henson shows up artists to have the same narrow minded knee jerk hysterical response as the rest of Australia. I am yet to see any actual intelligent debate about Hensons images.

  • Police Raid Art Gallery | Black Mark

    […] is yet another sorry and pathetic part in the story of Australian censorship. (See my 2008 post: More Art Censorship as events are likely to play out in the same […]

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