“Hospital charity rejects exhibition over boy photo” Nick O’Malley reports in The Age (January 5, 2011) that “officials of the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation took exception to the image by Archibald prize-winner Del Kathryn Barton of her six-year-old son, Kell.” Over a year and a half later the chill of the Bill Henson censorship fiasco continues to effect Australian art and culture. This might appear like a storm in a teacup but it is a clear example of the chilling effect. It is hard to observe the chilling effect because it is, generally, not doing something out of fear. In this rare example, not being the recipients of a charity exhibition due to fear of controversy, the chilling effect is evident.
The officials at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation are not prudes they are just protective of the reputation of their foundation. They have no way of knowing if this image would have been controversial because what was apparent in the Henson fiasco was that it was an arbitrary action and an arbitrary judgment. Another charity, Midnight Basketball, which runs workshops and tournaments for at-risk youth, will benefit from this charity exhibition.
This stupid and pathetic affair is only an example of the chilling effect, most will not be observed or documented. Although the rejection will not chill Del Kathryn Barton who will continue to use images of her own children in her art, as she has regularly in the past, the continuing fear of controversy will effect the decisions of other artists, curators, and exhibition sponsors.
In his story Nick O’Malley provides a history of this controversy; that Christian groups have been attacking artworks and prompting failed police actions for decades. In order to remedy this chilling effect the government needs to clarify laws and make an apology for its participation in slandering Bill Henson. In the absence of any move to ameliorate the situation a presumption that the government tacitly supports the chilling effects of trial by media and police raids.