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Friday, May 23, 2008

CENSORSHIP in Australia out of control.

Australia has always had a dubious reputation as far as art and film censorship is concerned, but if anyone thought that with Little Churchy Boy John Howard out of office, the national sport of censorship would catch up to the new millenium, you are sadly mistaken. Here are two cases worth checking, that are truly disturbing. It is hard to believe that in the year 2008 that an artist of the calibre of Bill Henson who has represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, and who is probably one of the nations mosthighly respected artists internationally could have his work mis-interpreted with such vehement narrow minded hysteria. Please read article from The Age newspaper from Victoria.

THE art world has denounced a "dark day in Australian culture" after police seized up to 21 photos of naked children and said they would lay charges over an exhibition by renowned Australian artist Bill Henson.

While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described the works as "revolting" and devoid of artistic merit, the art community has come out strongly on the side of Henson, rejecting the accusation that his works are pornographic.

At 3pm yesterday, police announced charges would be laid under the NSW and Commonwealth crimes acts for publishing an indecent article.

It was unclear whether Henson or people from Sydney's Rosyln Oxley9 Gallery, which published several of the controversial images on its website and promotional material, would be charged.

Both Henson and gallery owner Roslyn Oxley went to ground. Henson is believed to be distressed by the charges.

"This morning, police have attended the gallery and executed a search warrant and seized several items depicting a child under the age of 16 years of age in a sexual context," Superintendent Allan Sicard told media gathered outside the gallery.

The Age believes that police are also examining previous work by the artist.

Police raided the gallery on Thursday night following a complaint that has since been revealed to have come from child sexual assault advocate Hetty Johnson.

Early yesterday the gallery released a statement saying it would remove some of the works and reopen the show.

"After much consideration, we have decided to withdraw a number of works from the current Bill Henson exhibition that have attracted controversy," the statement says.

"The current show, without the said works, will be reopened for viewing in coming days."

The gallery has not commented since it was announced charges would be laid.

Henson has been a prominent figure since his first show at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1975. His work is found in public, private and corporate collections, including the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian High Court. It is also held in several prestigious international galleries, including the Guggenheim in New York and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

Over the decades, his subjects have included crowds, landscapes and images of urban decay, but those that excite the most comment and controversy have been of adolescent bodies.

In his latest exhibition, seen by Fairfax journalists at an early viewing this week, photographs of naked children comprised about a third of the show. Most of the shots were taken from the waist up, although the genitals of the female model were visible in one image.

AND...also, of less significance, but none the less equally terifying, is this recent cencorship case, in the 'Lucky Country'.

IF ONE of art's aims is to inspire discourse, debate, even division, Van Thanh Rudd has achieved plenty, even without his painting finding a hook from which to hang.

Yet the artist remained elusive about his controversial work, Special Forces (After Banksy) yesterday. Melbourne "artist activist" Rudd, the nephew of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, painted Special Forces as a comment, he says, about the global economy hampering efforts to improve human rights.

It was to hang in City Library as part of the Ho Chi Minh City Young Artists Exhibition, but City of Melbourne chief executive Kathy Alexander decided that it "did not contribute to the original intent of the exhibition".

Legal advice warned that the depiction of an Olympic torch-carrying, fast-food chain mascot, Ronald McDonald, running past a burning monk could attract legal action from McDonald's.

"I may well have been overly cautious," Dr Alexander said. "But I'm five weeks in the job and I look after $300 million of ratepayers' money, and I think they would be pretty peeved if they ended up in court paying millions of dollars."

The decision inspired criticism that the council was pandering to Chinese sensitivities, a claim Dr Alexander denies.

Lord Mayor John So, who has previously been accused of over-sensitivity on issues related to China, was not told of the decision to reject the painting until after it was made, Dr Alexander said. Councillors Peter Clarke and Fraser Brindley believe self-censorship is being practised.

Cr Brindley wants council to tighten guidelines for artworks chosen for display.

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