Art Monthly Makes Bold Statement

Art Life Jul 06, 2008 No Comments

Just when you thought it was all over, Art Monthly puts out a theme issue on art and censorship and uses an image of a naked 6 year old girl by Polixeni Papapetrou on its cover…

In the latest row over the depiction of nude children, Morris Iemma and the state Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, are so offended by the nude pictures of a young girl they want the magazine that published them stripped of federal funding. Kevin Rudd said he could not stand them.

But the girl says the picture is her favourite image and still hangs in the house.

“She just enjoys it. It’s acting. She just loves it,” said the 11-year-old girl’s father, Robert Nelson. “Poli [Polixeni Papapetrou, the girl’s mother] wrote a doctoral thesis on this. It’s a highly researched body of work.”

The images, part of a practice in which Papapetrou works with her daughter, were reproduced in an edition of the magazine that explores the storm over the Bill Henson photographs that were to be shown in Sydney in May.

In scenes that mirrored the political response to Henson’s images of a nude 13-year-old, Mr Iemma described Ms Papapetrou’s pictures as a “cheap, sick stunt” and threatened to bar the magazine from future grants.

New storm over nude child picture, Sydney Morning Herald.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he can’t stand artwork that depicts naked children.

Mr Rudd on Sunday said work such as that shown in this month’s edition of Art Monthly Australia did the opposite of restoring dignity to the debate over depictions of children in art.

The taxpayer-funded magazine used a picture of a naked six-year-old girl on the cover of its July edition in protest against the treatment of artist Bill Henson.

Angered by the “hysteria” over Henson’s pictures of a 13-year-old girl, the magazine also has a number of highly sexualised images inside, according to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

Art Monthly editor Maurice O’Riordan said he hoped the July edition would restore some “dignity to the debate”.

Mr Rudd was asked if the picture restored dignity.

“If you ask for my personal view, no it doesn’t. It does the reverse,” he told ABC television. “My view hasn’t changed on this. We’re talking about the innocence of little children here. A little child cannot answer for themselves about whether they wish to be depicted in this way. I have very deep, strong, personal views on this, which is that we should be on about maximising the protection of children. I don’t think this is a step in the right direction at all.”

Mr Rudd said he had no idea what the motivation for the Art Monthly pictures was.

“But I’ve got to say my interest and the interest of many Australians, I think most Australians, is to protect little children and restore some innocence to childhood,” he said. “Frankly, I can’t stand this stuff.”

Child protection campaigner Hetty Johnston hopes community outrage over the picture will lead to laws banning such photos.

Bravehearts executive director Mrs Johnston branded it “sexual exploitation of children. I don’t know if they are trying to get some notoriety on the back of Bill Henson but it is irresponsible,” Mrs Johnston said. “It is not the normal state of affairs. Yes it is natural and beautiful (a naked child) but it is also private. This child is six and cannot possibly give consent but this photo is taken at the whims and benefits of adults. Children won’t be buying it. Adults will. It’s not in the best interest of children.”

Mrs Johnston is heartened by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s opposition to the photo and said his response and community outrage would help her push for laws banning such photos.

She said the prime minister has made his view “very, very clear” and she had never felt more confident of the direction Australia was taking on child protection, during her 11 years of campaigning.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop is concerned a child has been exploited to make a political point.

“I support artistic freedom, freedom of expression, but I am concerned if there’s exploitation of children,” the Opposition’s workplace spokeswoman told Sky News.

“Unfortunately, this sounds as if a child has been exploited for the purposes of making a political point.

“There are other ways of making a point in support of freedom of expression and artistic expression particularly.”


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Andrew Frost

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