Censoring Bill Henson: Government, God, and Gallery

Australian authorities took down Bill Henson’s purportedly pornographic photographs from his gallery, Roslyn Oxley9, on May 22, and the battle between public good and private expression continues.

On the right: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd leading the charge with: “I think [the photographs] are revolting… kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected.” On the left: the arts community, led by playwright Michael Gow and writer Alison Croggon, armed with an open letter asking politicians to rethink their positions. (Apparently novelist John Coetzee and actress Cate Blanchett are now among the signatories.)

Taking a broader perspective, Richard Phillips wrote in wsws last Friday about the scapegoating of Bill Henson and the ensuing witch hunt:

Rudd and the rest of the Labor leadership have seized on the Henson issue as a diversion from mounting social tensions resulting from the rapid rise in the cost of living and growing hostility—just six months after its election—to the Labor government… Rudd Labor is trying to develop a political constituency among the extreme right, Christian fundamentalists and other disoriented layers to use as a means of intimidating and suppressing critical thought…

Another perspective to consider is the gallery’s role in supporting their artists. The owners, Roslyn and Tony Oxley, have largely complied with authorities. Following the police raid, this “Media Statement” went up on their website, essentially acknowledging self-censorship.

rosoxleyweb

I cannot claim to know their full position on this. And I understand they are facing death threats and criminal charges — sincerely, who can blame them for compliance.

But I am disappointed and confused about Roslyn Oxley9’s silence. As of this writing, their website’s “NEWS” section still has NOTHING about the debates unfolding around Henson — a story that could become the Australian counterpart to the Robert Mapplethorpe controversy (to name just one) in American art.

Ironically, this is in their website’s “About The Gallery” section:

Since 1982, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has been committed to the advancement of the most serious and innovative forms of contemporary art.

Through its exhibition program the gallery has supported work that is challenging and at the forefront of contemporary art practice.

The gallery’s silence suggests there are limits to such commitment and support. The obvious gap between what they say and what they do is troubling. This is NOT an attempt to prescribe. This is an attempt to raise a broader question: What role should a private gallery (i.e., no public funding) play in advocating for critical thought and expression — particularly in an increasingly conservative sociopolitical climate?

(See blixity’s previous post on this.)

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6 Responses to Censoring Bill Henson: Government, God, and Gallery

  1. Jade says:

    Worth a thousand words…

    Link to interesting video about Bill Henson’s photographic work:

  2. blixity says:

    thank you jade. yes, agree. the photos are being stripped of all context. important to see his new series as part of a larger oeuvre and social realm. the gallery is in a crucial position to do this but has gone silent.

  3. Gregory Carlin says:

    The material is child pornography and has been banned from other countries for that reason, the context is sexual and pro-pedophile. They were transacted over the internet before the police raided anywhere. Even Henson’s defendrs have accused him of being a bit extreme in relation to the sexualization of children.

    “Taking a broader perspective, Richard Phillips wrote in wsws last Friday about the scapegoating of Bill Henson and the ensuing witch hunt:”

    ULtra-communism, so they like naked little girls do they? Make’s a slight change of burning the Tsar’s children with acid.

  4. blixity says:

    thanks gregory for that not-so-interesting but astonishingly-hateful and generalized comment. your words are going up on this site for one reason alone. it’s this thing called free speech, a constitutional right to which bill henson is entitled. (there’s also another concept: “innocent until proven guilty”, which we believe is a solid and wise standard for civilized people to share.)

    regarding the ultra-communist description. first, wsws is socialist. second, not sure what ultra-communist means. third, i suppose the ultra-comms you refer to like naked little girls? is that sexual to you? fourth, “burning the tsar’s children with acid”. okay, you totally lost me on that one as that isn’t in any of my history books. maybe it’s in one of your holier-than-thou books? fifth, spell-check is a great feature to use when you try to intimidate with words.

  5. Gregory Carlin says:

    The ICFI is a Trotskyist international. Trotsky defeated the Whites. The Tsar’s family were murdered at Yekaterinburg, and soaked in acid.

    Trotsky being of that era and in command of the Boshevik forces. The World Socialist Web Site is part of the ICFI.

    Henson’s material is definitely child pornography in London, that is the de jure position, if Henson fancies his chances at a defamation lawsuit he can serve papers to

    Irish Anti-trafficking Coalition
    4 Downfine Walk
    Belfast
    BT11 8NX

    It may also be the most downloaded nakedc little girl photo in the history of the internet. so we can perhaps thank Henson for that.

    Henson is unable to exhibit that material in Britain.

    When we passed the SOA 2003 we put a stop to that kind of child sexual photography being imported into the United Kingdom.

    Respectfully submitted

    Gregory Carlin

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