The following link is to a discussion I had on Sunrise with former Democrats leader Lyn Allison on the art versus child porn debate. This issue reared its ugly head again as Australia’s Art Monthly chose to make a political statement by using higly sexualised naked images of six year old girl Olympia in their July edition.
Below is a letter Melinda Tankard Reist had published in the Sydney Morning Herald today:
You say dignity, I say torture porn –
and ne’er the twain shall meet
Art is about “giving people dignity”, the critic Robert Nelson told ABC radio this week. “We’ve got to have faith in art,” he implored.
Nelson is the father of Olympia, whose naked photos appear in Art Monthly Australia’s latest issue. The photos were taken in 2003 by her mother, when the girl was six.
Flicking through Art Monthly, I wondered whether Mr Nelson had looked at the magazine that featured his daughter before he gave us his thoughts on art and human dignity.
Call me particular, but I don’t find images of semi-naked, bound women with protruding sex organs all that dignified. I looked really hard, but I couldn’t see much dignity in the photograph of a Japanese schoolgirl trussed in rope and suspended with her skirt raised to reveal her underwear.
Torture porn just doesn’t stir my soul.
Some of Bill Henson’s images are there (of course – this issue was a “protest” in defence of his work). They are followed by selections from the work of the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, probably best known for his passion for taking photos of girls and women exposed and bound.
There’s his slumped, bound, schoolgirl picture and an image of a woman with her clothing stripped back, the ropes squeezing her naked breasts and contorting her into a pose that displays her genitals. A third uplifting work depicts a woman on the ground, strained forward, her naked spreading backside to the camera.
Faith in art?
A little further into the magazine you come upon the work of David Laity. What offering of truth and beauty does Laity give us? An image of a woman being bound with the tentacles of an octopus as it performs oral sex on her. That’s some dignified octopus.
Then there’s an image of a woman bending over so we can see her … well, you get the picture.
The photographs of Olympia need to be viewed in the context of the images positioned around her. On their own, the images that show Olympia reclining naked, her pose and look more that of an adult, can be seen as sexualised. But surrounding her with these other images superimposes a further, more sinister, meaning on them.
The former Democrats senator Lyn Allison told Sunrise the controversy was just about little girls playing dress-ups. But don’t dress-ups usually involve putting clothes on, not taking them off? And does this game usually end with your photo published in a gallery of female genitals? The magazine’s editor said he wanted to “restore dignity to the debate”. Does he really think he’s achieved that?
Artists who recognise there should be ethical constraints to art; artists who don’t think it advances humanity to tie up naked girls and capture their images – now that would be dignified.
Melinda Tankard Reist
Love to hear your thoughts.