Henson show sparks new row over displaying images of naked children

Corrie Perkin June 12, 2008
BILL Henson’s controversial photography exhibition went on display in Sydney last night, but the fierce debate over displaying images of naked children continued to rage.

Three weeks after its original launch date, the Henson exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in inner Sydney opened its doors to invited collectors only.

A gallery spokesman said the exhibition included those images confiscated by police on May 22 following complaints about photographs of naked children. He declined to confirm whether any works had been sold.

Hetty Johnston, executive director of the child protection group Bravehearts, was pragmatic about the opening.

“It’s legal, apparently, so what can you say?” she told The Australian yesterday. “No one can object unless in more formal ways through formal reform and that’s what we’re lobbying for,” she said.

As part of her national campaign, Ms Johnston has agreed to speak at an art censorship forum to be held tonight at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

The catalyst for the event was the Henson issue. Other speakers include human rights activist and lawyer Julian Burnside QC, writer and commentator Clive Hamilton and Art Gallery of NSW curator Tony Bond.

“I was invited to go along, and I guess for me it’s a case of, ‘Am I too frightened to front my critics? No’,” Ms Johnston said.

She said it was important to have community discussion about the issues raised over the past fortnight. “When both sides of the fence can see merit in each other’s arguments and then find a way through that protects the rights and freedoms of children, as well as protecting artistic freedom, we have progress.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, barrister Allan Myers QC will review the Henson issue in a Melbourne Law School speech. As part of the school’s Courting Controversy lecture series, Mr Myers will speak on Disturbing Australia – Art or Porn?’

Child activists yesterday threw their support behind a letter published in The Australian that said the bigger issue was not the art-child pornography debate, but the rights of children.

“Basically, I was shocked that people were not seeing the real issue,” said child psychologist and writer Steve Biddulph, one of the 30 signatories to the letter.

“It wasn’t about pornography, or even about pedophilia – it’s about children’s rights.”
Additional reporting: Angus Hohenboken

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