Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Open Letter of Support for Bill Henson

PRESS RELEASE: MAY 27, 2008

Open Letter in support of Bill Henson
From Creative Australia 2020 Summit representatives

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

As members of the Creative Stream of the Australia 2020 Summit, we wish to express our dismay at the police raid on Bill Henson’s recent Sydney exhibition, the allegations that he is a child pornographer, and the subsequent reports that he and others may be charged with obscenity.

The potential prosecution of one of our most respected artists is no way to build a Creative Australia, and does untold damage to our cultural reputation.

The public debate prompted by the Henson exhibition is welcome and important. We need to discuss the ethics of art and the issues that it raises. That is one of the things art is for: it is valuable because it gives rise to such debate and difference, because it raises difficult, sometimes unanswerable, questions about who we are, as individuals and as members of society. However, this on-going discussion, which is crucial to the healthy functioning of our democracy, cannot take place in a court of law.

We invite the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the NSW Premier, Mr Iemma, to rethink their public comments about Mr Henson’s work. We understand that they were made in the context of deep community concern about the sexual exploitation of children. We understand and respect also that they have every right to their personal opinions. However, as political leaders they are influential in forming public opinion, and we believe their words should be well considered.

We also call on the Minister for Environment Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, to stand up for artists against a trend of encroaching censorship which has recently resulted in the closure of this and other exhibitions.

We wish to make absolutely clear that none of us endorses, in any way, the abuse of children.

Mr Henson’s work has nothing to do with child pornography and, according to the judgment of some of the most respected curators and critics in the world, it is certainly art. We ask for the following points to be fairly considered:

1. Mr Henson is a highly distinguished artist. His work is held in all major Australian collections including the Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery of SA, Art Gallery of WA, National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia.

Among international collections, his work is held in the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Denver Art Museum; the Houston Museum of Fine Art; 21C Museum, Louisville; the Montreal Museum of Fine Art; Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris; the DG Bank Collection in Frankfurt and the Sammlung Volpinum and the Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

Major retrospectives of Mr Henson’s work at the Art Galleries of NSW and Victoria attracted more than 115,000 people, and produced not one complaint of obscenity. His work has also been studied widely in schools for many years.

2. Mr Henson has been photographing young models for more than 15 years. Until now, there has been no suggestion by any of his subjects or their families of any abusive practices. On the contrary, his models have strongly defended his practice and the feeling of safety generated in his process, and have expressed pride in his work.

We suggest that the media sensationalism and the criminalisation of laying charges against Mr Henson, his gallery and the parents of the young people depicted in his work, would be far more traumatic for the young people concerned than anything Mr Henson has done.

3. The work itself is not pornographic, even though it includes depictions of naked human beings. It is more justly seen in a tradition of the nude in art that stretches back to the ancient Greeks, and which includes painters such as Caravaggio and Michelangelo. Many of Henson’s controversial images are not in fact sexual at all. Others depict the sexuality of young people, but in ways that are fundamentally different from how naked bodies are depicted in pornography. The intention of the art is not to titillate or to gratify perverse sexual desires, but rather to make the viewer consider the fragility, beauty, mystery and inviolabilty of the human body.

In contrast, the defining essence of pornography is that it endorses, condones or encourages abusive sexual practice. We respectfully suggest that Henson’s work, even when it is disturbing, does nothing of the sort. I would personally argue that, in its respect for the autonomy of its subjects, the work is a counter-argument to the exploitation and commodification of young people in both commercial media and in pornographic images.

Many of us have children of our own. The sexual abuse and exploitation of children fills us all with abhorrence. But it is equally damaging to deny the obvious fact that adolescents are sexual beings. This very denial contributes to abusive behaviour, because it is part of the denial of the personhood of the young. In my opinion, Mr Henson’s work shows the delicacy of the transition from childhood to adulthood, its troubledness and its beauty, in ways which do not violate the essential innocence of his subjects. It can be confronting, but that does not mean that it is pornography.

Legal opinion is that if charges were laid against Mr Henson, he would be unlikely to be found guilty. The seizure of the photographs, and the possible prosecution of Mr Henson, the Rosyln Oxley9 Gallery or the parents of Henson’s subjects, takes up valuable police and court time that would be much better spent pursuing those who actually do abuse children.

4. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the trial-by-media to which Mr Henson and his work has been subject over the past few days, is how his art has been diminished and corrupted. The allegations that he is making child pornography have done more to promote his work to possible paedophiles than any art gallery, where the work is seen in its proper, contemplative context. It is notable that the attacks on Mr Henson’s work have, almost without exception, come from those who are unfamiliar with the photographs, or who have seen them in mutilated or reduced images on the internet.

If an example is made of Bill Henson, one of Australia’s most prominent artists, it is hard to believe that those who have sought to bring these charges will stop with him. Rather, this action will encourage a repressive climate of hysterical condemnation, backed by the threat of prosecution.

We are already seeing troubling signs in the pre-emptive self-censorship of some galleries. This is not the hallmark of an open democracy nor of a decent and civilised society. We should remember that an important index of social freedom, in earlier times or in repressive regimes elsewhere in the world, is how artists and art are treated by the state.

We urge our political leaders to follow the example of Neville Wran, when in 1982 a similar outcry greeted paintings by Juan Davila. At that time, Mr Wran said: “I do not believe that art has anything to do with the vice squad”. With Mr Wran, we believe the proper place for debate is outside the courts of law.

Alison Croggon
Writer


Signatories:

Louise Adler, CEO & Publisher-in-Chief, Melbourne University Publishing
Geoffery Atherden, Writer
Neil Armfield, Artistic director, Belvoir St Theatre
Stephen Armstrong, Executive Producer, Malthouse Theatre
James Baker, Tax advisor and accountant
Geraldine Barlow, Curator
Larissa Behrendt, Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Cate Blanchett, Actor
Daryl Buckley, Musician
Leticia Cacares, Theatre Director
Karen Casey, Visual Artist
Kate Champion, Choreographer, Artistic Director Force Majeure
Rachel Dixon, New media developer
Phoebe Dunn, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Commercial Galleries Association
Jo Dyer, Executive Producer, Sydney Theatre Company
Kristy Edmunds, Artistic Director, Melbourne International Festival of the Arts
Saul Eslake, Economist
Richard Gill, Artistic Director, Victorian Opera
Peter Goldsworthy, Writer
Marieke Hardy, Writer and broadcaster
Sam Haren, Artistic Director, The Border Project
Frank Howarth
Cathy Hunt, Creative consultant
Nicholas Jose, Writer
Andrew Kay, Producer
Ana Kokkinos, Film maker
Sandra Levy
Matthew Lutton, Theatre director
Nick Marchand, Artistic Director, Griffin Theatre
Sue Maslin, Producer, Film Art Doco Pty Ltd
Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Director, Museum of Contemporary Art
Callum Morton, Visual Artist
Rosemary Myers, Artistic Director, Windmill Performing Arts
Rachel Healy, Director Performing Arts, Sydney Opera House
Liza Lim, Composer
Jan Minchin, Director, Tolarno Galleries
Helen O’Neil, Executive producer
Charles Parkinson, Artistic Director, Tasmanian Theatre Company
David Pledger, Theatre director
Marion Potts, Theatre Director
Katrina Sedgwick, Festival Director, Adelaide Film Festival
David Throsby, Academic
Mary Vallentine, Arts manager

Additional signatories:

The following support the appeal contained in this letter without necessarily endorsing the detailed argument:

John Coetzee, Novelist
Anna Haebich, Writer
Ramona Koval, Writer and broadcaster
Julianne Schultz, Writer
Marcus Westbury, writer and broadcaster

Monday June 2: Those who would also like to sign this letter are invited to do so below. Please put your name, and location (but NOT your full private address) and position, if applicable. All comments on this page are moderated.

146 comments:

Anonymous said...

Emma Kersey, Leichhardt NSW, Actor.

Clay Manning and Beth said...

Beth Driscoll, Richmond VIC, PhD Candidate.

Anonymous said...

Josephine Byrt, Vic, Cultural Services Manager, MU Student union Ltd

Ming-Zhu said...

Ming-Zhu Hii, Melbourne VIC, Actor/ Theatre Maker.

Anonymous said...

Sarah John, Adelaide SA, theatre director

Geoffrey said...

Geoffrey Williams, Melbourne/Sydney

rebecca said...

Rebecca Bartel, Elwood VIC, Managing Director

Ampersand Duck said...

Caren Florance, Canberra ACT, artist & publisher

Anonymous said...

Nicholas Jones,
Melbourne, Vic
Artist

Anonymous said...

andrea mason, Fremantle,WA

Laura Carroll said...

Laura Carroll, Montmorency VIC, Lecturer.

Anonymous said...

Tamara Watt, Melbourne, Photographer/Arts Manager.

Sarah Holland-Batt said...

Sarah Holland-Batt, Saint Lucia QLD, writer.

Anastasia said...

Anastasia Russell-Head, Melbourne VIC, Musician

Anonymous said...

Kris Gottschall, Bathurst NSW, PhD student

Anonymous said...

Deb Verhoeven, Melbourne VIC 3001, Associate Professor of Screen Studies, RMIT University.

Anonymous said...

Fran Martin, Northcote, VIC, Lecturer in Cultural Studies

Laura said...

Laura Scrivano, Drummoyne, Theatre Director/Writer

Amanda Rainey said...

Amanda Rainey, WA, Graphic Designer.

Adam said...

Adam Stapleton, Burwood, NSW, PhD Candidate

Anonymous said...

Lucy Markey, Woodville SA

Mark Bahnisch said...

Mark Bahnisch, New Farm Qld, Creative Industries Faculty, QUT

Anonymous said...

Philippe Charluet, Melbourne VIC, Film Maker

Ken Harwood said...

Ken Harwood, Perth WA, member of the public.

David said...

David Carlin, Melbourne VIC, writer, film-maker and lecturer

Anonymous said...

Adam Gall, Kogarah NSW, PhD Candidate

Anonymous said...

Alicia Nicolson, Warrnambool VIC, Finance Manager

Anonymous said...

Dr Jonathan Marshall,
contributing editor, "RealTime Australia"
research fellow, West Australian Academy of Performing Arts

Meredith Jones said...

Dr Meredith Jones, Marrickville Sydney, writer and academic.

Felicity Van Rysbergen said...

Felicity Van Rysbergen, East Kew, VIC, Writer/PhD Candidate

Anonymous said...

Paul Kerrigan
Yowie Bay, NSW

Anonymous said...

ben hjorth, melbourne.

Greg Hainge. said...

Greg Hainge, Senior Lecturer in French, University of Queensland.

Phil Gomes said...

Arts lover, Sydney, Australia.

Tim Norton said...

Tim Norton, Canberra, Political Advisor

Anonymous said...

Jane Coakley
SymbioticA
WA

keri said...

Keri Glastonbury, NSW, academic.

Abe Pogos said...

Abe Pogos, Balaclava, Scriptwriter

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Kerryn Goldsworthy, Adelaide SA, writer and critic.

Zoe Bowman said...

Zoe Bowman, Art lover & full time parent, Canberra.

Christen Cornell said...

Christen Cornell, Erskineville, Rights Manager (Book Publishing)

Russell Blackford said...

I support the appeal, and I generally support the letter - with a reservation about the broad statement re the "essence of pornography".

Russell Blackford, Albert Park, VIC. Philosopher, literary critic, and freelance writer. Editor-in-chief, Journal of Evolution and Technology.

Anonymous said...

Amanda Howell, QLD Academic

Anonymous said...

Justine Toh, Doctoral Candidate, Macquarie University, NSW.

Anonymous said...

Jon C, Sydney NSW, Designer

frances said...

Frances d'Ath, Adelaide SA, dancer & choreographer

Anonymous said...

John Ryan, Beechboro, Perth, WA,semi retired carpenter

Anonymous said...

Eirini Cox, Historian, Melbourne

Anonymous said...

Melanie Swalwell, academic.

Anonymous said...

Michael Christie
Snug TAS
PhD Candidate

Darlene said...

Darlene Taylor, Melbourne Victoria

Anonymous said...

Georgie Isbister
Feminist Cultural Researcher
Petersham NSW

Anonymous said...

Maggie May, Ferny Hills,
Qld,NTEU organiser

Joel said...

Joel Tozer, Cooma NSW, Amateur Theatre Director

Anonymous said...

Bridget Price, Writer/Trainee Agent, Surry Hills

Cam Wilson said...

Cam Wilson, Student and Artist

Anonymous said...

Georgie Meagher, Surry Hills NSW, Artist.

Anonymous said...

Alix Thoeming, East Ryde, USYD Student

Lloyd McDonald said...

Lloyd McDonald
Account Manager, Sydney

Miles Allinson said...

Miles Allinson, North Carlton Vic, Artist.

sydney arts journo said...

Nicholas Pickard, Sydney.

lisette said...

Felicity Hopkins, Thornbury Vic Textile artist

Catherine Reynolds said...

Catherine Reynolds, PhD Candidate, ANU

Anonymous said...

Joanne Matthews, Richmond Vic.

made in melbourne said...

Lefa Singleton Norton, Director, A New Leaf Media

Simon said...

Simon Stone, Melbourne VIC, Artistic Director, The Hayloft Project.

Elisa said...

Elisa Ghisalberti, South Melbourne VIC.

Eileen said...

Eileen Darley, SA, actor,singer.

anewexposure said...

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/SupportBillHenson?e

I agree and am petitioning

Andrew Wurster Photographer
Fitzroy North VIC

Jesper said...

Jesper Sidhu
Melbourne VIC,
Student and Artist

Jonathan auf der Heide said...

Jonathan auf der Heide, VIC, Film maker

Rob said...

Rob Manderson, formerly of Melbourne, now Phoenix Arizona USA, interested amateur.

Anonymous said...

Olivia Radonich, Melbourne VIC, Student and Gallery Assistant, Melbourne

Anonymous said...

Mike Stubbs
CEO
FACT
Foundation for Creative Technology
Liverpool, UK

Anna Vo said...

Anna Vo, Lakemba NSW, student

Anonymous said...

Karen Hall, Perth WA, lecturer

Anonymous said...

Maz Dixon, Bondi, NSW

Anonymous said...

Alana Miles, Melbourne VIC, student

Dorian said...

Dorian Jones
Montmorency Vic
Arts Centre Programmer, Musician

Anonymous said...

Kate Vinen, Camperdown NSW, Filmmaker.

richardwatts said...

Richard Watts, Fitzroy VIC.
Chair, Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Producer/Presenter, SmartArts, 3RRR.
Editor, MCV.

space for us said...

Neal Harvey, Fitzroy, VIC, Writer.

Anonymous said...

Georgina Capper, Melbourne VIC, Actor

Anonymous said...

Tom Wren
Melbourne, Vic

Anonymous said...

Trevor Joyce, Cork, Ireland, Writer

Anonymous said...

Patrick McManus, London, writer.

Laurie Duggan said...

Laurie Duggan, Faversham UK, poet.

Anonymous said...

Ana Franco-Garay, Kogarah, Early Childhood Educator and Centre Director

Anonymous said...

Jodi Frawley, Castlecrag, PhD Candidate

Anonymous said...

Eleanor Garran, Canberra

Anonymous said...

Philippa Moore, London, writer.

Anonymous said...

Anne-Marie Gillman, Mareeba Queensland

Lizy said...

Liz Dunmurphy, Plympton, SA

Anonymous said...

Ginger Briggs
Melbourne, Victoria

Peter D said...

Peter Demetris, London UK (Formerly of Melbourne VIC) Television Director and Photographer

Paul Rapoport said...

Dr. Paul Rapoport, Editor, Going Natural / Au naturel (of the Federation of Canadian Naturists); Consulting Editor, Nude & Natural (of The Naturist Society, USA)

Anonymous said...

I support the appeal contained in this letter without necessarily endorsing the detailed argument.

Gareth Boylan, Camperdown, NSW

Anonymous said...

Dion Kagan, Northcote VIC, PhD Candidate.

David said...

David Nichols, Jacana, Vic, historian/lecturer

George Hunka said...

George Hunka, writer, New York, USA

Anonymous said...

Chris Kohn
Melbourne, Theatre Director

Rob Gerrand said...

If you consider the spectrum of all the available images of young girls, Bill Henson's work would have to be at the "least pornographic" end of that spectrum, while blatant porn and sexualised images abound in the media and the internet.

Unfortunately there are elements of our society who are repressed and who confuse nudity with sex, regard sex itself as often immoral, and who either rave on about "trays of meat on display" or become perverts themselves.

Jonathan Shaw said...

Jonathan Shaw, Annandale NSW

Anonymous said...

John Ford, Melbourne, VIC, Lighting Designer.

Barry Schwabsky said...

Barry Schwabsky, London, GB, art critic, poet, co-editor of international reviews for Artforum

Anonymous said...

Sam Butler, Erskineville NSW, editor.

rosie said...

Rosie Fisher, Bondi NSW.

singing bowl media said...

Tamsin Sharp and John Sones, Singing Bowl Media, VIC.

Anonymous said...

Sarah Turner, Brunswick West VIC, full-time corporate, part-time performance artist

Anonymous said...

Imogen Birley, Bagdad Tasmania, public servant

mayhem said...

Margaret Mayhew, NSW, Artist & Writer

Anonymous said...

Christopher Hudson, NSW.

Anonymous said...

Emilly Davis, Melbourne VIC, Gallery Manager

emmeline said...

Emily O'Brien, Thornbury VIC, Production & Stage Manager

Anonymous said...

Dr David Baker, lecturer in Film and Media, Griffith University

Anonymous said...

Susan and Adrian Lewis, Musician and Teacher, Rosedale, NSW.

Anonymous said...

I support the appeal contained in this letter without necessarily endorsing the detailed argument.

Tim Howard, Box Hill, VIC.

little death productions said...

Ben Packer, Brunswick VIC, theatre director.

Anonymous said...

Stephanie Wood, journalist, Sydney

Stephanie Trigg said...

Stephanie Trigg, FAHA, Professor of English Literature, University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3010

Bronwen said...

Bronwen Hyde, Brunswick East VIC, photographer

Anonymous said...

Kim Johnston, Penrose NSW, object maker.

Mark said...

Mark Armstrong, theater director
New York City

Josh Spero said...

Josh Spero, London, England, journalist

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Spreen, writer/director, San Francisco, USA

Anonymous said...

Edwina Wren, Melbourne, VIC, Actor

Matt Scholten said...

Matt Scholten, Theatre Director & Teacher

Skanky Jane said...

I don't agree with what you said about pornography and hesitate at "perverse" but apart from that, I support your letter.

Skanky Jane

Anonymous said...

Liz Conor
Honorary Research Fellow and writer, University of Melbourne

Jake said...

I support the appeal contained in this letter without necessarily endorsing the detailed argument.

Jake Wilson, writer, Collingwood

Michael said...

Michael Carden, Brisbane QlD

Kate said...

Kate E.H. Nancarrow, Stratford, VIC, Artist & Mother.

Owen Richardson said...

I support the appeal contained in this letter without necessarily endorsing the detailed argument.

Owen Richardson, Pascoe Vale South, writer

fifi said...

Fiona Edmonds-Dobrijevich. Sydney NSW Painter, lecturer, parent

Bryan said...

Bryan Davidson Blue, Melbourne VIC, Playwright

Anonymous said...

Paul Bamford, Pascoe Vale Victoria,
Disgusted ALP Member

Anonymous said...

Paul Grabowsky
Pianist, Composer, Festival Director

xofro said...

Chris Rodda, Fitzroy VIC, architect

(except the single comment on "the essence of pornography")

rebecca hirschfeld said...

Dear Bill/ Roslyn, for all the friends and family who care, SUE them for a national trust account or the like to protect those images and those involved for the long term future & get compensation for the potential world of unwanted media and yuk .
Hatz vehallilah (god no) but this is a serious displacement. Up until now the work was working art , it still is; but it should have been an undercover operation if they believed in their own beliefs. Do it quickly before world youth day stuff.
Sue them undercover.

Alice said...

Alice Enache, Monash University student, Melbourne.

Glenroi Heights said...

Glen Martin,
Canberra ACT,
Producer

Binnsy said...

Dan Binns, Richmond NSW, student, writer, filmmaker

Obertra said...

We need to beware of 'the prude' we harbour in ourselves which daren't contemplate that nudity in children or young persons should ever be 'signified' in any way shape or form let alone as 'High Photographic Art'.

Had Bill Henson sculpted his young models in 'stone' ala Michelangelo or Rodin or painted putti on ceilings re Renaissance palaces no doubt critics would have been all too blasé with their 'uninterested reviews' about passé style.

Clearly, 'The Photograph as Art' can be too honest for 'The Dishonest' to gaze upon.

Trent said...

Trent van der Werf, London UK, Art Director

Cassy said...

Cassandra Velinos, Horsham VIC, Student.

Daniel said...

Daniel Boerma, Redfern, NSW. Marketing Manager