OUTRAGE: Bill Henson’s Exhibition. Child porn?

Bill Henson

Since the dawn of the civilised world, humankind has been asking the question What is art? This week has prompted many Australians to ask the same question, with the controversy surrounding Bill Henson’s latest photographic exhibition.

The photographs were due to be exhibited at Paddington’s Roslyn Oxley Gallery, and depicted nude teenagers. Some people say the images are thinly veiled child pornography. Even our Glorious Leader, Kevin Rudd, has slammed the images as ‘absolutely revolting’. “Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff – frankly I don’t think there are any – just allow kids to be kids.” he told the Nine Network.

The question is: do the photographs carry a sexual flavour, or are the anxieties of an alarmist media colouring the works with a darker, unintended hue? It would be naive to endorse such a view with confidence; Bill Henson’s photographs are unmistakably dark and have a creepy, voyeuristic feel to them. The children in question appear awkward and embarrassed. There is a sense of irony in that the exhibition has been closed, and yet media outlets continue to fling around lightly censored versions of the images.

But John McDonald, from the Sydney Morning Herald, says there is nothing sexual about the photos. “To me, the big shame is that the only time that we start looking at art and talking about art in the mainstream media is when it’s banned, when it’s supposedly pornographic, when it’s doing something that’s taboo,” he told ABC Radio’s AM

All these arguments aside: putting these kinds of images into the public arena is not sensible. Could it attract paedophiles? Perhaps it was a good idea to close the exhibition until these questions can be answered.

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  1. [...] in the media for weeks after Henson was cleared of any wrong-doing and Design Federation’s coverage of the story continues to draw interest to this day. But after examining Audrey Kawasaki’s illustrations, one [...]

  2. Michael says:

    Charlie Louise – you have not understood what people have been writing and from your ideas you do sound like a young person. Please remember what you wrote here and see if you still agree with it in 20 years.

  3. Volker says:

    Dear all, I have not read every single entry in this comment list, but I might as well make my own point here. First of all, I think there is a misconception about the term porn. Porn is the explicit display of intercourse. A naked girl in whatever pose has nothing to do with porn. When somebody like Bill Henson decides to try and capture the beauty of youth displaying a young girl in the purest of ways, the naked body, then it doesn’t mean that every male automatically gets an erection. There are less primitive individuals out their who can in fact distinguish between porn and the act as an art form. I think the problem many Australians have is, that they have a disturbed approach to their own sexuality. Maybe it stirs something in them emotionally that makes them try even harder to ignore it. This might have it’s source induced by the church, their parents or other authorities who proclaim that nakedness is something dirty. I feel sorry for the parents of the young girl who may have thought that she did the right thing in the name of art. Now she might be surrounded by people spitting at her or calling her names while the exact same people secretly keep their “dark desires” in a pile under the bed or boxed in the far end of their WIR.

    It’s a strange world…

  4. ariel says:

    Good art is powerful because it circumvents cognitive function and goes straight to the soul. As such, Hensen’s work is great art in my opinion, but i still hate it.

    I hate it because it dredges up feelings of vulnerability, fear, confusion, and all the stuff that makes me sick. If the images were shot in bright white light, with an air of confidence, poise, permanence…they would have a different meaning to me. These dark images make me feel like my mind is being raped.

    So as i say, it’s fantastic art, but I HATE IT…and great artist’s take all deep reactions as a compliment… i’m an artist myself. :)

  5. ariel says:

    BTW just want to add that nobody can say that these images are NOT sexualised, or that they ARE. Interpretation belongs to the viewer. And what does it mean for an image to be ‘sexualised’ anyway? Some people perceive sex as a euphoric emotional experience. Other people perceive it as mere physical action.

    All I can say is that when it comes to condoning or censoring, art is produced for society. If the majority of society like it, fine. If not, put it away. Art isn’t some magical thing that we should all bow down to.

  6. Mayhem says:

    Standard-issue moral panic. Shame on you all for buying into it when there are genuine problems which demand our attention.

  7. Hawky says:

    there are some very interesting views on this topic, some of which i disagree to. in terms of bill, in this recent work i believe he has found the line for what is acceptable in society and crossed it. this is not an appropriate representation of how an artist should comment on society. those out there who think this sort of thing is appropiate should be prosecuted along with henson, as their view of what is right is also corrupted. henson should be prosecuted for this work which crossed the line, but continue to make art, as he is still a very well respected artist. this is my opinion. interpret how you may.

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