2020 Open Letter in Support of Bill Henson

2020 Open Letter in Support of Bill Henson
theatre notes
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I know it’s been quiet on the blog the past couple of days. However, it has not been quiet at home: I’ve been putting together an Open Letter in Support of Bill Henson from a number of the Creative Stream representatives at the Australia 2020 Summit. The letter has just gone out to media outlets, and runs as follows:

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
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

Additional signatories:

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

John Coetzee, Novelist
Ramona Koval, Writer and broadcaster
Julianne Schultz, Academic

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2021 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
This entry was posted in Art, Sex & Sexuality, State / Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to 2020 Open Letter in Support of Bill Henson

  1. KinkyBoy says:

    How many of you Pimps, Cheap Gossips and Intellectualising Self Abusives, so smug and indignant as your kind are, have kids of your own?

  2. KinkyBoy says:

    And if you have, get ’em before the lens… NOW!

    Hypocrites!

  3. @ndy says:

    If I had to guess, KinkyBoy, I’d reckon a fair proportion of the signatories would have kids. And of these, I suspect more than a few would have taken photographs of them when they were young. In other words, I think jew are barking up the wrong tree.

  4. KinkyBoy says:

    But never before the lens as publicly displayed “art” for all to indulge in the splendour of newly budded breasts and follicles untouched by another.
    Always someone else’s kid, but never their own at the vanguard, pushing ever upward like moist, lush mushrooms through the virginal artistically untouched soils of that which is so “new”, “fresh”, “inspirational” and “tastefully” innocent in its rendition of the “purity of pre-pubescent youth” or such similar cafe latte wank.

    Burst Colostomy Bags the lot of ’em.

  5. @ndy says:

    Right.

    OK.

    So.

    You’ve progressed from the false opinion that the signatories are hypocrites because they likely have no children, to the proposal that they are hypocrites because the subject of such photography is never their own offspring.

    In reality, as opposed to the Bizarro World of KinkyBoy, artists such as Henson frequently use their own or the children of other artists as subjects.

  6. KinkyBoy says:

    “…artists such as Henson frequently use their own or the children of other artists as subjects.”

    Indeed.

    Do they like to watch others watch images of their own ?

    The bizarro, Sicko world is theirs, and they’re welcome to engage in and solicit the centripetal Jerk in their own Kosher private galleries.

    They’re hypocrites because their children are not before the lens and available for public perusal. You understand exactly what I meant but seem to revel in the interpretive game of disingenuous semantics. But isn’t that what the Fork Tongued Jewdoo best ? Get off on their own eloquent perceptions of magnificence before “G_d” and the Goyim, all the while perusing the audience for any sign of a “win” ? That “win” being of course the audience verifying through belief, the plausibility of the Jews’ lie and his fabrication of “truth”. The “truth” of the Jew is a truth of consensus, discovered and measured by the number of innocents deceived.

    It’s what happens when the “Chosen” with all the Courage of Cain, who would lie without flinching even to their “G_d”, run out of things to with which to exceed and excel in relative terms, in their endless competition to best the “Goyim” and manifest as the “Chosen Race”. Baseness, Coarseness and Murder is all Jews have left and it always ends up being a race to the Bottom…Again.

    FightDemBack so we can FondleDemBoys ?

    Grubs and Maggots, eating, writhing and wriggling in the carcass of another’s community such that it in fact appears to be alive.

  7. Lumpen says:

    Clearly, Kinkyboy, jew don’t know what jew are talking about. But that’s the thing about Bill Henson; he brews up interesting work that can cause conflicting ideas by recontextualising ordinary things. The only thing sexual in the pictures are the ideas the viewer might project on it.

  8. Dean T says:

    Good letter, some of the issues mentioned within made a hell of a lot of sense, I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a subject of his paintings, but that’s mainly due to me not wanting deviants to have a cheap thrill, not because I find nudity at any age disgusting or morally corrupt. It’s imperative that healthy debate should always take precedence over opportunistic interference by the long arm of the law, especially since their usual response is just to ban anything different. The above shit-for-brains KinkyBoy seems to be one of the rock-spider types that needs to get his nuts crushed with a hammer, then his obviously inept manhood torn off with the claw. How’s that for descriptive text, KinkyScum? Inbred idiots always show their stupidity, every time! I’m sometimes ashamed of being Teutonic, when there’s so many dickheads around that claim to share my gene pool…

  9. dj says:

    You really have to wonder at some of the descriptive language used by some of the people OUTRAGED1!11! at Henson’s photography – it recalls the priest harassing skateboarders for being homosexual receptacles of spermatozoa.

  10. @ndy says:

    Lumpen: I think Kinky remains The King of Batshit Crazy Anti-Semitic Insult, don’t jew?

  11. KinkyBoy says:

    I have a young daughter and young son of my own Dean T. Jewish Fascists masquerading as “Israeli Art Peddlers”, likely inspired by the slippery reptiles at the Bnai Brith, have visited the family home when the kids were in the house. Again with all the Courage of Cain, which is all these Weasels have.

    And on FDB we have the skittering minions from the Persecution Complex at the Bnai Brith whingeing again about the sale of “Nazi” memorabilia at some place or another. Perhaps the public display of “David’s” Star might be considered to be the public expression of Jewish desire to enslave the Goyim through Noahide “Law”, which is really a law designed to force the Goyim to worship the Narcissistic Jew as “G_d” manifest.

    If Judaism is ‘Fascist’ totalitarian law religionised then racialised, then are all who identify as Jews “Fascists” ?

    Their behaviour is consistent with the accusation made against them since some arsewipe decided that only HE was Chosen and decided to manifest his perceptions of magnificence in the physical world.

    Not all Jews are magnificent, but all feel entitled to the things promised to them in the “religion”. The first of which is the deference and submission of the Goyim as a tangible acknowledgement of self perceived “fantasticness”. “Wow how good am I to have been born with such Ontologically Exceptional DNA and all that entitles me too”.

    The Innocence of the child and indeed the World needs to be protected from the depraved instincts and insane puerile idiocy of the Jew…who believes himself to be entitled to stick his dirty hand wherever it fits, simply because he can and it is easy.

    Who are the Pedos…Little T Man and who are the “Nazis” skulking around the neighbourhoods of the “Goyim” in an attempt to threaten others into silence. “We know who you are…Ooooooo…ScaryScaryHairyMcLairy”.

    The Jews must live, but their lies as dead truths walking are fair game. What does a talent less Jew become when he can’t get the things he feels entitled to…A Bolshevic Killer of Goyim in the tradition of Cain.

    To enunciate an understanding of what might motivate the mind of the Pedo SchlockSpider does not make one a Pedo, and Mr T, curious that you too seem to want to protect your particular child from such photographic exploits that appear disproportionately advocated for by Jewish “Artistes”. But you still think it is OK, but just not for your particular kid. Join the swindler’s list as another Hyppie on the letter.

    And Andy…You’re not fighting “Fascists” at all…you are one.

  12. Lumpen says:

    Jew only say that because the Chosen told you to. Or is it that you can pre-empt the wishes of our masters? Kinkyboy had better cower in fear: the month of Jewne is fast descending. That’s when our magic powers are at their height.

    Grubs and Maggots, eating, writhing and wriggling in the carcass of another’s community such that it in fact appears to be alive.

    Burst Colostomy Bags the lot of ‘em.

    I have to admit that these are bordering on brilliant, albeit with weird capitalisation. Just goes to show how fine the line is.

  13. KinkyBoy says:

    What’s next ? Henson’s “The Smooth Attack of the Lolitian Moppets”.

    You “Artistes” are Nutz.

  14. @ndy says:

    Jewly invested with the requisite authority, I declare a moratorium on Kinkyness.

  15. KinkyBoy says:

    [Deleted by Jews.]

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