WORD SEARCH with Adair Jones

Bill Henson and censorship in Australia

Posted in Musings..., Strangled Words by Adair Jones on February 2, 2009
shut down

shut down

Consider the experience of Bill Henson last year. This exquisite photographer, one of Australia’s foremost artists, was forced to shut down his show on the day it was meant to open. Photographs were seized and impounded by police, who threatened to charge him as a child pornographer. Throughout the subsequent media furore, everyone weighed in–even the Prime Minister, who called Henson’s photographs “absolutely revolting”.

The fallout has been damaging to creative freedom in Australia. The Australia Council has issued new, more restrictive guidelines relating to the depiction of children in works of art. Also, I worry that the ordeal might have caused such distress for Henson that he may work with more caution in the future, limiting his vision, denying the world his astonishing photographs.

And what of other younger, less established artists who may never be given the opportunity to flourish in a climate where creativity is scrutinised, legislated, reviled and even punished? It’s easy to imagine many not having the heart for the fight, redirecting their energy into more mainstream and socially acceptable work.

Indeed, the South African Nobel Laureate, J.M. Coetzee posits an internalised figure of the censor and remarks that it is the dream of censorship that “the law and its constraints will be so deeply engraved on the citizenry that individuals will police themselves.” Judy Blume, the best-selling author of books for teens, has been widely censored for her frank portrayals of sensitive teen issues. She mourns “the loss of books that will never be written…the voices that will be silenced…all because of fear.”



This post is part of a larger article published last year.  To view the whole article –>


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  1. […] don’t have anything to say about that brouhaha that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. But I thought I would note an incident in Sydney in early November 1880, in which police once […]

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