The following article was published in Wed Diary on October 08, 2008:
By Reuben Brand
In the wake of the Bill Henson fiasco Australians have become divided in the debate over art vs. pornography and censorship vs. freedom of expression.
Australia’s censorship laws came under tight scrutiny at an Arts Censorship Forum convened after the recent furore surrounding artist Bill Henson’s latest exhibition.
Hetty Johnston, executive director of child protection agency Bravehearts, called for an arts tribunal to be set up that artists must first approach before working with children.
“The arts industry does nothing in terms of meeting its obligation and responsibility to protect children,” she said at the forum.
Tamara Winikoff, executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, said that although she didn’t agree with Ms Johnston’s ideas, she thought the forum raised some very important issues.
“Hetty Johnston’s proposal of artists having to go to a tribunal to get permission to use children in their work is really not a good idea, and I don’t support what she is saying. Hetty’s continued targeting of artists is a misdirection of her energy; what she needs to be concerned about are the genuine threats to child safety,” she said.
Cameron Murphy, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said there was nothing wrong with a photograph of a naked minor and that the censorship of such an exhibition was uncalled for.
“In my view this is clearly the exhibition of an internationally recognised artist. It is appalling to see police raiding galleries and removing works of art. The position of the Child Protection Agency was extreme and irrational –such a reaction makes Australia look ridiculous,” said Mr Murphy.
Prominent Sydney-based photographer Ella Dreyfus is head of public programs at the National Art School. She said today’s problem was that children’s bodies are over sexualised and Mr Henson should take more responsibility for the sexual connotations in his work.
Ms Dreyfus is no stranger to controversy in her career as an artist. In an exhibition titled Under Twelves she photographed 14 young boys from the chest up, her son included. The difference between Mr Henson’s work and her own, says Ms Dreyfus, is that her models are not naked or sexually suggestive.
“As a mother and a concerned adult it does worry me. The pressure on children to perform, to look like sexual beings, when emotionally and mentally they are just light-years away from it.”
Ms Dreyfus does not support censorship and believes that sending the police in was definitely overkill, but she is glad that the debate about Henson’s work is out in the open.
“I feel that with Bill Henson it’s been a case of the emperor’s news clothes. Like the king’s walking down the street naked and no one’s saying anything because the king doesn’t believe he’s doing anything wrong,” said Ms Dreyfus.