Melon Farmers Original Version

Art Censorship in Australia

Getting wound up by children in art

22nd August

Update: Funding Censorship...

Australian art gallery takes down artwork featuring child, lest funders get easily offended

A photograph of a partly naked prepubescent girl by internationally renowned photographer Jan Saudek was removed from the Ballarat International Foto Biennale on the eve of its opening.

Biennale director Jeff Moorfoot said he understood a woman went to the Orwellian sounding Office of the Child Safety Commissioner, Tourism Victoria and the local council to complain that the 1995 Saudek work, Black Sheep & White Crow , which she had seen in an ad promoting the exhibition in Art Almanac, depicted a mother prostituting her child.

Moorfoot said the council and tourism agency warned him that a controversy surrounding the image could imperil funding, even though Saudek's works were in a separate room with a warning at the door that they contained adult content.

Moorfoot said: No one's said 'take the work off the wall or else'.   [...BUT... they said] 'if this goes to the ministerial level, chances are we won't fund the next festival'.


12th March

Update: Artless Censors...

Australia strips out artistic defence from laws governing images of children

Australia is planning on forcing artists who create images of nude children to pay a fee of $500 per image to have them classified by the government as genuine art and not child pornography.

The removal of the so-called artistic purpose defense is one part of across-the-board changes to child pornography laws announced by Attorney-General John Hatzistergos that were spurred nearly two years ago by the case of artist Bill Henson, whose photo exhibit featuring images of naked children sparked intense debate throughout the country. Despite being later approved by the classification board, the case highlighted the need for more clarity with respect to images of child sexual abuse.

The new definition will encompass what is termed child abuse material, said Hatzistergos. That means it covers depictions that reasonable persons would, in all the circumstances, regard offensive.

Those depictions, he said, would include where the person is a child who is a victim [of] cruelty, physical abuse, the child is engaged or is apparently engaged in a sexual pose or sexual activity. It also will apply when the child is in the presence of someone engaging in any of these activities or where the private parts of the person [who] appears to be a child are shown.


16th February

Update: Disappearing Childhood...

The Art Censorship Guide published in Australia

After her exhibition was closed and her house raided by police, the Archibald Prize-winning artist Cherry Hood made a pivotal decision. She would no longer depict nude children but would concentrate on portraits instead. About a decade on, she has never returned to the subject that provoked the police action.

The works were of naked girls aged about four upwards, onto which she painted penises. They were a comment on gender stereotyping, a theme that has long concerned Hood. All the images of girls were photographs in freely available publications.

Her case is outlined in The Art Censorship Guide , just published by the National Association for the Visual Arts. It is a reminder that action against artists has a long history in Australia.

But Hood's decision to change her art practice is one many artists are facing in the wake of the Bill Henson controversy, according to NAVA's executive director, Tamara Winikoff. The introduction a year ago of Australia Council guidelines for working with children has increased the pressure on artists to steer away from contentious subjects.

It's meant that people who may not have taken any notice have now become self-conscious, Winikoff says. It means that the critical role that art can play is being silenced.

NAVA's guide argues that the visual arts are the prime target for censors and zealots. It provides information about threats to artistic freedom and how to deal with them, outlining the existing laws, the role of key bodies including the Classification Board, and provides advice on what to do if the police call.

The 100-page guide encourages artists to speak up if a work is censored or restricted or if an artist is intimidated.

No Australian artist has been found guilty of exploiting or harming children within their art practice as far as NAVA is aware. Existing laws are adequate and the Australia Council guidelines are having a chilling effect on the making and distributing of images of children, Winikoff says: Perfectly legitimate images of children are disappearing from the public domain because everybody is too nervous, she says.


8th July

Update: Panic and Censor...

Australians fearful of the excesses of art, film, television and the internet

Watching the smouldering ruins of the Henson bonfire in the past few months, I've had reason to recall the old ambassador's wisdom. The transition from Howard to Rudd has seen not much change from the social caution of the old era. The liberals inside Labor are almost as embattled as they were inside the Coalition. That Rudd is, as we were warned, very, very conservative involves more than maintaining the American alliance. It also means continuing to promise fearful Australians protection from the excesses of art, film, television and now, above all, the internet.

As the year drags to a close, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is fine-tuning a regime of internet censorship unique in the democratic world. Under direction from Rudd, the Australia Council is drafting protocols that will tie in bureaucratic knots any artist dealing with children and present extraordinary obstacles to their work being put on the net. And the nation's attorneys-general are roaming the outskirts of censorship law to try to crack down on images of naked children. Kevin Rudd's Australia is in a funk over art and kids.

...Read full article


28th March

Update: Challenging Art...

Art Monthly Australia reprises Bill Henson pictures controversy

Art Monthly Australia , the magazine criticised by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last year for carrying a photo of a nude schoolgirl on its cover, has published more naked images to test the Government's guidelines aimed at protecting children.

But editor Maurice O'Riordan said the three pictures of nude girls had been found to comply with the Australia Council's children in art protocols, even though they were starker than last year's image.

The protocols demand that naked images of children be considered by the Classification Board to ensure they are not obscene. Anyone who photographs children needs parental permission before the pictures can be exhibited and must declare the photographs did not involve exploitation of the subject.

The full-frontal photographs - taken from an American book and exhibition, The Century Project , by Frank Cordelle - are used to illustrate a review of David Marr's book, The Henson Case , about last year's controversy over a Sydney exhibition by photographer Bill Henson that included images of pubescent girls.

Both the Henson photographs and the image used by Art Monthly Australia last year - a photograph by Polixeni Papapetrou of her six-year-old daughter, Olympia - were given an unrestricted rating by the classification board.

O'Riordan described Papapetrou's photograph as more demure because of the lighting than Cordelle's images in the latest edition, which he said were more suited to a documentary: It was important for us to test the protocols because we are funded by the Australia Council. He had not considered putting Cordelle's photographs on the cover because he said even the arts community appeared divided over the use of Papapetrou's image.


14th November

Update: Crowd Troubles...

Australia Council releases guidelines for children in art

Anyone who photographs children will need the permission of the parents before the pictures can be exhibited.

The ruling is included in sweeping guidelines released by the Australia Council designed to protect children in the aftermath of the Bill Henson controversy.

The six-page document also requires artists who work with naked children to ensure that their parents understand the nature of the artwork. Artists must also have a commitment from parents that they will supervise the naked child.

But missing from the draft guidelines is any mechanism for policing them.

A key visual arts organisation has described elements of the draft protocols as unworkable. The executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, Tamara Winikoff, said requiring artists who work with children to obtain parental permission was restrictive: That's problematic particularly for people like documentary photographers who work in the street. At the moment there are no restrictions on taking crowd photographs or photographs of people in the street without their permission … This would impose a very, very unreasonable restriction.

The guidelines say images of nude or partly nude children taken over the past 25 years may need to be reviewed by the Classification Board before they can go on view.

Where there is no law to enforce them, the protocols will work as a minimum standard and a reminder to everyone that they must obey the law.

They will affect all projects funded by the Australia Council. From January 1, artists must adhere to the protocols if they want a grant from the Government's peak arts funding body.

The council is seeking comments on the draft protocols by November 27 and will publish the final guidelines on December 31


27th October

Update: Defenceless Artists...

New South Wales to remove artistic defence from child porn charges

The New South Wales Government says it will introduce tough new sex-crime laws, and may strip artists of a defence against child-porn allegations, in line with recommendations of a NSW Sentencing Council report.

NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos today said the Government would introduce a raft of changes recommended by the council.

Commissioned in September last year and chaired by retired Supreme Court judge James Wood, the council's report into the state's sex crime laws will now be used as a gold standard for new legislation to be introduced this year, Hatzistergos said.

In the wake of the Bill Henson scandal, an artistic purpose defence to charges of child pornography should be removed, the Sentencing Council said.

Stressing the reform had nothing to do with the Henson case, Hatzistergos said removing the defence would only apply to work that depicts children as the victim of torture, or physical and sexual abuse.

The child nudity so controversial in Henson's work would not be affected by such a reform, he said.

The council has recommended the introduction of a number of new offences, including voyeurism and inciting a person to commit a sexual offence.

NSW opposition leader Barry O'Farrell supported abolishing the artistic purpose defence.


9th September

Update: Childish Sensitivity...

Another Bill Henson work published

In a move that could reignite the divisive children-in-art scare, a photograph by artist Bill Henson of a naked girl has been reproduced on the internet and in an art auction catalogue.

Auction house Lawson-Menzies has displayed the work, Untitled 1985/86, in publicity for the sale in two weeks.

The photograph depicts a naked girl, apparently a teenager but whose age is unknown, lying on sheets, her legs parted. The girl appears to be sleeping. Henson created the work in 1985-86 and it was exhibited in 1989.

The National Gallery of Victoria and the Albury Regional Art Gallery are believed to own works from the same series.

Lawson-Menzies' national head of art Tim Abdallah said last night the photograph belonged to a Melbourne collector who had decided to sell.

The director of the National Association for the Visual Arts [NAVA], Tamara Winikoff, said: Bill Henson's work has been assessed by the Classification Board on the basis of community complaints and the board agreed it was perfectly fine to be seen by the general community and it didn't break the law. That should be the end of it.

NAVA is currently working on an arts censorship guide to clarify people's rights and responsibilities. The Australia Council is also developing a set of protocols to address the depiction of children in art works, exhibitions and publications that receive government funding. The protocols will be in place by January 1 next year, and adherence to them will be a condition of receiving Australia Council funding.


2nd August

Update: Naked Chill...

Australian book publisher feels somewhat chilled over Henson affair

Fallout from the Bill Henson controversy has prompted book publisher Thames & Hudson to seek a classification from the federal Government for a proposed monograph on the artist.

It is understood that on July 23 the Classification Board received a submission from the publisher in relation to a reprint of the 2003 book Lux et Nox , produced by Swiss publisher Scala.

The 5000 copies of the original 192-page edition sold within 12 months. For the past 18 months, Thames & Hudson has been planning a reprint.

It is believed the publisher and the artist were close to finalising the project when police raided a Sydney gallery in May and confiscated several Henson works.

Two weeks ago, the board ruled the July issue of Art Monthly Australia warranted unrestricted classification, but advised that readers would need a mature perspective.

Despite that outcome, Thames & Hudson remained uneasy about its forthcoming publication. A spokesman for the publisher declined to comment yesterday. Industry sources say the intense debate prompted the publisher to tread carefully.

Henson's spokesman declined to comment, but it is understood that the artist and publisher agreed to submit the book to the Classification Board.

The submission of a book that has already been published has prompted concern in some quarters of a new era of censorship.


17th June

Update: Censorship Guide...

Arts group to produce guide to censorship in Australia

An arts body will produce a censorship guide to clarify the laws about artistic freedom of expression. The National Association for the Visual Arts said yesterday it would develop a guide to better educate artists about the moral and legal limitations of artistic expression.

The move follows the recent uproar over photographer Bill Henson's use of nude children as models.

The guide will consider ethical issues, rights and responsibilities, explain the law, advise about public exposure of sensitive material and the most effective way to deal with complaints.

The National Gallery of Victoria's chairman, Allan Myers, said that while producing a guide was "sensible", it would be difficult to define the moral and legal limitations facing artists: That's why it's best to err on the side of freedom, I think.


9th June

Diary: Art Censorship: the Bigger Picture...

Panel discussion in Sydney

Thursday 12th June 2008, 6-8pm
Foundation Hall
Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
140 George Street

Open to the public. Entry by donation (donations to cover costs of holding the forum).

The evening's proceedings will be introduced by Margaret Pomeranz, ABC TV film critic and President of Watch on Censorship. The discussions will be chaired by David Marr, lawyer, writer and journalist and Vice President of Watch on Censorship.

Panel Speakers:

  • Ian Howard is an artist, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW and Chair of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA). He will provide an artist's perspective about his experience in testing the boundaries in relation to militarism and national security, self censorship, and the vagaries of audience interpretation.
  • Gallery speaker (TBC), will offer the gallery perspective on art censorship discussing galleries as 'special' places, curatorial decision-making, dealing with sensitive subject matter, and dealing with complaints and threats.
  • Hetty Johnston, is Executive Director and founder of Bravehearts Inc. which aims to engender child sexual assault prevention and protection strategies, advocate for understanding, promote increased education and research, and provide healing and support. Ms Johnston will give her views on the boundaries of public tolerance in relation to art and protection of the child.
  • Julian Burnside QC, is a barrister, writer and President of Liberty Victoria, has acted pro bono in many human rights cases and is passionate about the arts. He will elaborate the law in relation to art censorship and how it is exercised, including the complexities of 'intention', 'context', 'reasonableness', public attitudes, protecting human rights and freedom of expression.
  • Clive Hamilton, is a prolific writer and public commentator and immediate past Executive Director of The Australia Institute. He will comment on community standards and public moral codes, and the limits to freedom of expression.

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