In a worrying escalation

By 2 June 2008 53

In a worrying escalation of the Hensen issue, the Canberra Times is reporting that the Canberra Centre has ordered the removal of an exhibition of students’ life drawings, sparking further concern that art censorship is spiralling out of control.

The seven drawings, created by Dickson College Year 11 and 12 students, were part of an annual exhibition at the centre, celebrating Public Education Week but organisers were ”amazed” when Canberra Centre staff asked them to remove the nude drawings within three hours of displaying them last month.

This took place four days before NSW Police seized Bill Henson’s photographs from a Sydney gallery, inflaming debate over what constituted art.

What next? Community book burning?

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53 Responses to
In a worrying escalation
Ava 4:53 pm
02 Jun 08

The removal of the paintings does seem wrong, but I would not draw a parallel between those paintings and the “artistic” photography of underage nudity. If censorship means protecting those that are underage from harm I am all for it.

fnaah 5:01 pm
02 Jun 08

If this happened before the Hensen thing, the only escalation I see here is in the level of hype.

hax 5:50 pm
02 Jun 08

What we need is balance. What we get are extremists.

The media only ever seems to push the extreme views, making everything a one or the other debate. Not helpful when something might just need a slight change around the edges.

Apparently our choices are “ban all nudity everywhere” or “anything goes” – or thats how it seems anyway, so stupid shit starts happening.


Deadmandrinking 5:58 pm
02 Jun 08

The henson issue is debatable, but this is just bullsh-t.

sepi 6:03 pm
02 Jun 08

This is a joke. The images were mostly back type views – no genitals and they were charcoal and chalk drawings.

As pointed out by the canberra times, nude backsides seem to be fine in sexy jeans ads etc, which are tolerated in the canberra centre.

Skidbladnir 6:07 pm
02 Jun 08

The Artists Shed in QBN does a nude show every so often, and they haven’t been raided.

Why does the Canberra-Centre get to be part of an orchestrated media beat-up and build their profile, but the Artists Shed doesn’t?
Did anybody ask the models if they wanted to be taken down?
Can we get a list of the names of the local people who are deemed to perverse to be viewed?

And anybody who has ever done any form of life drawing or posing can confirm the subjects really do get treated fairly well by the session groups.

Skidbladnir 6:09 pm
02 Jun 08


I know two comunity books worth burning…
One is called “Thats Where I Met My Wife: The story of the first public swimming pool in the National Capital”, the other is the book that came out about the Januray 18 bushfires.

johnny_the_knife 6:12 pm
02 Jun 08

The Canberra Centre is a commercial trading space with an obligation to it’s tenants to create a welcoming space which will attract potential customers. It is not an art gallery.

The management of the Canberra Centre would be listening to/attempting to anticipate and head off any complaints from shoppers. It is therefore unsurprising that anything people may consider controversial/confronting or find offensive would be removed promptly (unless there is potential for commercial gain).

A commercial art gallery makes it’s money by selling art works and will generally tolerate confronting and/or controversial works if they consider it likely they will be salable.

sepi 6:13 pm
02 Jun 08

This one was the Canberra Centre manager’s decision, not the police.

Still stupid.

el 6:23 pm
02 Jun 08

Absolutely pathetic.

Pandy 6:36 pm
02 Jun 08

I get very offended when I see the ads in the shop window of the bra shop. Very offended.

You cant be nonconfo 6:38 pm
02 Jun 08

In the words of Catherine Tate: what a f&cking liberty! So it’s ok for the Canberra Centre to parade female flesh when it is in aid of selling jeans, but not in the name of artistic endeavour???

For the uninitiated, I’m talking about those two ridiculous posters of the girl with the jeans hanging off her arse right near the Bunda St pedestrian crossing – I pass these half a dozen times a day and never fail to be amazed at the lengths people will go to to make a link between their product and s*x. Surely if the jeans are that great, she’d want to keep them on, not rip them off?

As for the Canberra Centre management, they need to seriously consider the message they send by banning nude art and allowing similarly-revealing advertising – cos at the moment it looks like they’re saying nudity is only ok if there’s commercial gain involved!

astrojax 7:40 pm
02 Jun 08

for fark’s sake, ava, “If censorship means protecting those that are underage from harm I am all for it.

what ‘harm’? the real harm is having our kids growing up somehow treating normal healthy naked bodies as something evil, reviled and for scorn. get a life.

harm, protect our kids… this debate s so full of meaningless platitudes…

sepi 7:48 pm
02 Jun 08

I honestly think the covers of mags like Ralph etc, that are on show to all in every newsagent are more offensive, and more harmful to impressionable youth than Henson’s photos, which are also only on view in galleries, where people can choose to view them, or not.

Last week in the news there was a story on a 16 year old fashion model appearing topless in various fashion shoots – I think this is worse than Henson’s photos too.

We are turning into America – our priorities are getting all messed up.

astrojax 7:53 pm
02 Jun 08

and i’ve gone from being a mere picketer to being an official rabble rouser – thank you god.

imhotep 8:26 pm
02 Jun 08

sepi said :

I honestly think the covers of mags like Ralph etc, … are more offensive,

Why are those Ralph covers offensive yet Hensen’s photos not? Both show naked forms, with the difference being Henson’s are children.

I was fairly neutral on this, until I googled Henson. To me, there is no doubt that some of the images could be construed (by some) as sexually explicit, and at the very least represent an invasion of the child’s privacy.

The police being called was overkill though. A quiet word would be the correct response- (to paraphrase Thumper).


Whatsup 8:50 pm
02 Jun 08

An over the top reaction to student artwork. I hope the Canberra centre management apply the same censorship rules to all the advertising and products sold in and around their premises.

cazjs 11:20 pm
02 Jun 08

People seem to be missing the point in the Henson debate. It is not about protecting adults from seeing pictures of naked children. It is not about protecting children from seeing pictures of naked children. It is not about the prohibition of the naked form in general. It is not about censoring art.

(I’ve been reading a lot of opinions and articles on this topic over the past week, and becoming increasingly annoyed, because it seems that most of them try to make it about one of the problems listed above. There have been comparisons to Leonardo’s David, and May Gibb’s Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, both ridiculous parallels to draw.)

It is about protecting children from being exploited by adults. In this case, a 13 year old has been coerced into posing naked for an adult photographer, for entertainment of other adults, and this is simply wrong. It is a violation of The Rights of the Child (Article 19, ). This child has been failed by her parents, who are responsible for her protection. If this man was not practicing under the guise of being an artist, he would be condemned immediately. (Just think of the story and remove the “art” part – POlice seize photos of naked teenagers from man’s home/work/wherever. How does it sound now?!)

The rights of children should and must have precedence over the freedom of speech or expression. Ordinary members of the community must stand up and protect those who cannot protect themselves – children – and stop this nervous muttering about “censorship” and “artistic expression”.

cazjs 11:26 pm
02 Jun 08

Correction: Michaelangelo’s David.

I always get my Ninja Turtles confused :) and it’s late at night and i’m focussed on my rant.

caf 12:55 am
03 Jun 08

How do you know she was “coerced”? Are photogaphs involving nudity automatically exploitative in a way that photographs not involving nudity are not? Why? Does it matter that it was “for entertainment of other adults” – presumably photographs of naked teenagers are OK in an educational context (medical textbook?) Why? Is it fair to reduce all art to mere “entertainment” anyway, as if there was no essential difference between the art of Salman Rushdie and Joel Schumacher?

I am all for protecting those who cannot protect themselves, but I believe it is far from clear that the child in this instance was actually harmed.

Thumper 1:03 am
03 Jun 08

Just back from a gig and still hyped. Damn those ninja turtles and their paintings!

cazjs 7:46 am
03 Jun 08

By law, a 13-year-old is not old enough to consent to sex or sexual activity. She may have said “yes, sure, i’ll get my kit off for your photo”, but developmentally a 13-year-old is not equipped to make decisions like this. That is why these laws exist. Of course there may be exceptions to the rule – there may be teenagers who do this sort of thing and don’t regret it later – but the law has to draw the line in the sand somewhere to protect children, and that line is drawn at 16.

Do you know of specific medical textbooks where children are photographed naked? I’d be very interested to know about that as i’ve never seen one. But a possible argument for that is that medical professionals are seeing the naked body in a very different light to the average pleb on the street, and it is necessary for them to see it to do their job. It is not necessary for most people to look at naked teenagers in order for them to go about their lives.

I’m not going to get into a discussion on “what is art?” here, as that is not the issue at hand. But i think it’s fair to say that no matter what one defines as art, it is “entertainment” to somebody.

The issue is that whether or not the child was “harmed”, it is illegal. This specific girl’s parents may say that she is fine, and that they consented for her – they cannot consent for her, and they have failed to protect her. How can anyone know how she will feel about this in years to come? And the most important problem is this: even if this child is ok, even if she grows into a stable adult with no regrets… if “art” like this is allowed to happen, what about the next child who becomes involved? Will they be ok? Why does society want to take this chance? The line needs to be drawn here, and Henson needs to know that this is not ok.

Special G 8:02 am
03 Jun 08

I can see it being used as the next defence for pornographic images of children found on someones computer. ‘But Gov it’s just art’ it’s ok for that Henson guy. Anyone who thinks art is naked 13 yr old girls needs to take a good hard look at themselves, or they might be taking a good hard something else in the clink.

Life drawing subjects must be 18. They are able to make informed consent about what they are doing.

madocci 8:38 am
03 Jun 08

I am just interested to know why nudity always has to be sexual. It appears as though we are censoring ourselves out of fear of paedophiles and I don’t think that’s right. I would have thought the sexualisation of children via media and advertising would cause more of an outrage. This whole debate seems insane to me. Isn’t it more dangerous for a child to be dressed up in an outfit that is sexually suggestive (i.e. miniskirts and boob tubes that can be bought at target) than it is to have a photo taken by an artist who has been one of our most successful internationally? It makes me angry that our children cannot ever see pictures of other children naked, and therefore even more sexualisation of nudity. The outrage created by people is of more damage to these children than would have come from the exhibition going ahead… that is my opinion.

As for Canberra centre, this is just another indication of how redneck our community really is.

caf 9:18 am
03 Jun 08

Where we seem to differ, cazjs, is I don’t think that this *is* “sex or sexual activity”. That, perhaps, is the crux of the debate – can nudity be non-sexual in context? I, and I am far from alone in this, would argue that it can, and I use the medical textbook example as one illustration of this (I think even the BBC series “The Human Body” had naked children in it, and that was shown on the ABC!).

If we are to go by a strict utilitarianist doctrine of “necessity” then very little art at all would be permitted. How necessary is pop music?

I think the “art question” is entirely relevant, because the debate (as we seem to have come around to) is essentially about whether or not posing for the photos is sexual activity, which boils down to whether or not we are able, as a society, to draw a distinction between legitimate art and pornography.

I also disagree with your last points – firstly, the issue is definitely about whether the child is likely to be harmed (in the general case) – preventing harm is where a prohibition like this sources its legitimacy. Secondly, it is far from clear that it is actually illegal, see this from Greg Barns:

(On Section 91H of the New South Wales Crimes Act): Section 91H deals with the offences of production and dissemination of child pornography. It defines child pornography to mean material that depicts or describes a child under 16 engaged in sexual activity; in a sexual context or as a victim of torture, cruelty or physical abuse, “in a manner that would in all the circumstances cause offence to reasonable persons.”

There is also if a defence if it can be shown that “having regard to the circumstances in which the material concerned was produced, used or intended to be used, the defendant was acting for a genuine child protection, scientific, medical, legal, artistic or other public benefit purpose and the defendant’s conduct was reasonable for that purpose.”

CanberraResident 10:00 am
03 Jun 08

It is not the mind of the artist that should be questioned, but the minds of those people who see a link to “pornography” in these images. It is those minds that are more disturbing than that of the artist.

Ingeegoodbee 10:08 am
03 Jun 08

Anyone who looks at an image of a 13 year old girl and thinks about sex – even if its for the purpose of calling for the image to be banned is a fcuking pedophile in my book. If you cant draw a distinction between nudity and sex then your an useless maggot.

dalryk 10:18 am
03 Jun 08

Cazjs, how can you argue that ‘by law’ a 13 yr old cannot consent, but then reject the legal right of the parents to give consent? You can’t have it both ways.

From what I have read, both the parents and the child considered and discussed the matter at length, and came to a combined decision to consent to the photo. And yet people still cry about ‘exploitation’, or ‘coercion’.

Now if there *was* coercion, or a case of parents exploiting their children for sexual purposes that would be an entirely different circumstance. But the apparent fact is that there wasn’t. And just because there exists a photo of a child in the nude is not automatic evidence of exploitation, coercion, harm, damage, violation of innocence or anything else that people are so concerned to protect children from.

Context is everything, and in this context no wrong was committed.

As for the Canberra Centre’s actions, I think the hypocrisy has been clearly pointed out by other posters.

Snahons_scv6_berlina 10:33 am
03 Jun 08

Some things should be left alone and nude photos/portraits of minors are one of them. Give me a logical, well defined, defendable reason as to why ? and “its art” doesn’t cut it.

trilobite 10:34 am
03 Jun 08

sepi said :

This one was the Canberra Centre manager’s decision, not the police.

Still stupid.

Absolutely. And are we to believe that Canberra Centre management did not vet the images before they were put on display? Did the suits who run the place one morning suddenly look across their mall and say “What the…? Who the hell put that there? I approved pictures of Paddington Bear. In lingerie. As drawn by 15-year-olds.”

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