On 22 May of 2008 columnist Miranda Devine of The Sydney Morning Herald started the witch-hunt. NSW police joined in closing Bill Henson’s exhibition in Sydney and threatening to lay charges.
The Bill Henson story was picked up by Associated Press and reprinted in newspapers around the world. What politicians thought would have local breakfast television appeal makes Australia look internationally like a nation of philistines. Peter Garrett, the Minister for the Arts and former Midnight Oil front-man, ducked the issue and has kept largely out of sight since.
Censorship of the arts in Australia became a hot issue again, and to the frustration of the politicians, the issue would not go away. It continued with the cover of Art Monthly featuring a photo of Olympia Nelson taken by her mother. The controversy was raised in every gallery director’s opening speech at an exhibition of nudes; especially Gordon Morrison, the Director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat, introducing his exhibition “The Naked and the Nude”.
Many artists have commented on this controversy over the year. Mary Newsome referred to both the censorship of Fogelberg and Henson in her postcard installation at Mailbox 141. In Hosier Lane, a paste-up of a fat ugly naked man by Camel bares the slogan “No Rudd Gonna Censor Me!”
The lack of a clear outcome in this controversy has meant that artists working with nudes now fear censorship and demonising. The increased sensitivity to nudes in the community lead to more censorship issues; for example, in South Australia at the Tea Tree Gully’s annual art exhibition in August two nudes were banned.
There has also been an increase in search terms like: “pedophile melbourne art”. The popularist polemics of state and federal politicians have convinced some people that art, like the Catholic Church, is simply a cover for pedophiles. In October the next round of the witch-hunt started with a non-controversy: Bill Henson visited a Melbourne primary school. The Victorian government reprimanded the school principal, before finding any breach of protocols, presuming wrong doing and slandering Henson by in the process. I have called this witch-hunt as it is an intensive systematic campaign directed against Bill Henson and those who support him. The reason for the witch-hunt now is simply to vindicate the politician’s views by any means.
The last word on this subject should go to Olympia Nelson: “I’m really, really offended by what Kevin Rudd said about this picture. That was really, really rude. For him to be talking about my picture, the picture with me in it, it doesn’t feel very good.” Kevin Rudd is yet to apologize to Olympia Nelson.
Leave a comment | tags: Art Monthly, Bill Henson, Censorship, Kevin Rudd, Peter Garrett, witch-hunt | posted in Censorship, Culture Notes
When Peter Garrett was still Shadow Minister for the Arts I wrote about his arts policy – Burning the Midnight Oil. I did not hold out much hope for his arts policy at the time. On that occasion Garrett calls his political opponents “philistines” but in the Bill Henson controversy one of these alleged philistines, Malcolm Turnbull has defended the Henson against philistine attacks by the ALP. Garrett also said that he and his party would talk more about the arts but on the first major arts issue Garrett has remained silent.
I emailed Peter Garrett to find out what the Minister for the Arts was doing to reduce the chill effect from the recent censorship or if he wanted to reduce the arts to a mouth piece for government propaganda. I have heard nothing, not even an acknowledgement of my enquiry and I am not alone. In the open letter leading writers, dramatists, filmmakers, musicians and artists called on the Minister for Arts Peter Garrett to “stand up for artists” against the “encroaching censorship, which has resulted in the closure of this and other exhibitions”. Garrett ignored their letter too.
Garrett like other Christian socialists wants the arts to be a well-crafted propaganda suitable for the masses, without subtly or any genuine insight. This sums up his entire artistic career as front man for Midnight Oil.
If Garrett now wants to do something for the arts he should resign as Minister for the Arts. He has failed according to his own standards. He has lost the confidence of the arts community. He does not even have the courage even reply to the concerns of the Australian arts community.
Unlike Garrett, the ABC is doing its job and educating the public about the arts with multiple repeat broadcasts of a documentary on Bill Henson, as well as another story about Henson on Sunday Arts. And unlike Garrett, the ABC is unconcerned about prejudicing an ongoing and going nowhere police investigation.
3 Comments | tags: Australian politics, Bill Henson, Censorship, Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Garrett, propaganda | posted in Censorship, Culture Notes
From the long history of censorship in Australia, it is possible to achieve an accurate understanding of Australian culture as dominated by prudish, thin-skinned, sycophantic, philistines.
Not a single Australian politician has come out to defend Bill Henson, not even those who own art by Henson (they are hoping that they can profit from the increased sales price and the witch hunt). The Federal Arts Minister, Peter Garrett has remained silent on the controversy of arts censorship – censoring himself. (Garrett is not really the Minister for the Arts, rather he is just another one of Rudd’s toadies.) International readers of this blog may not be aware that in Australia there is compulsory voting that censors anyone who does not encourage voters to show a preference for both political parties. (I wonder how Bill Henson will be voting but according to Australian law he will have to support a party that condemns his art.)
A major contributing factor to censorship in Australia is prudish, Christian morality. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced his religious bias quickly into the debate of Bill Henson’s art with his “God forbid” remark. Rudd believes, without evidence, in the idea of the “innocence of children”, introducing Christian dogma to the debate. Christians are not in a good position to throw stones as they frequently expose children to an image of sadomasochistic pornography with a nearly naked man hanging on a cross. [Andy Soutter “The Greatest Porn Star Ever Sold”, Rapid Eye 3 (Creation Books, 1995)]
In 2004, the ACMI was responsible for the censorship an artist’s work that they had commissioned. ACMI then exhibited an altered version of the work against the artist’s consent. The censored work exposed the pornographic sadism in the central Christian icon. And in 1997 there was the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ by a thug with the blessing of then-Archbishop, now Cardinal Pell Pot.
Censorship is also an issue at the 2008 Sydney Writers Festival. Journalism students of University of Technology, produce ‘Festival News” for the Festival. The first edition of the Festival News was censored by the Writers Festival because of references imply that the Minister of the Arts was not popular. The festival claimed that the publication was ‘offensive’ when it was merely critical of the government. This action is similar to the demotion of academic Dr. Paul Mees by the University of Melbourne for criticism of the Victorian Government. This sycophantic aspect of Australian culture is disgusting; it makes it very difficult for critics or intelligent debate and retards civic progress.
The chill effect of the recent censorship of artists self-censoring out of fear will damage the careers of artists in Australia and further retard Australian culture (if there is such a thing). Read about the experience of recently censored Melbourne artist Cecilia Fogelberg in her blog.
2 Comments | tags: Australian values, Bill Henson, Censorship, Christians, Kevin Rudd, Peter Garrett | posted in Censorship, Culture Notes