Officers raided the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, in Paddington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, just before the exhibition was due to open on Thursday night. They seized 20 of Henson’s images which feature a naked girl and boy said to be aged 12 to 13.
NSW Police Force has said it intends to lay state and federal charges, and the investigation has also gone interstate as the young girl is understood to be living in Victoria. Rose Bay Local Area Commander Superintendent Allan Sicard said the seized images depicted a child under the age of 16 years “in a sexual context”.
Commonwealth charges could be laid over the gallery’s website with state charges applying to the pictures, he said.
The raid, and the prospect of an artist facing criminal charges, has reignited the debate about what constitutes art.
I have been so angry about this whole mess that I haven’t been able to write coherently till now. I don’t know what has me more outraged. the police raid and seizures, the statement by Prime minister Kevin Rudd that these works are ‘revolting’, the galleries that are also pulling Bill Henson’s works from their collections or the constant newspaper articles referring to these artworks, by one of Australia’s premier artists, as ‘”art”‘. At the same time I am heartened by the reactions of the art community and the NSW law society that have rallied behind Bill Henson.
The fact that people can debate whether these works are art or not is an outrage. the fact that the PM of Australia has gone on record saying these works have “no artistic merit” is downright disgraceful. whether you like the pieces or not they are the epitome of art and artistic intention. they are beautiful and pure and definitely not sexualized in any way.
Henson has explored many themes in his long and successful career but frequently returns to the notion of innocence, coming of age, adolescence and the confusion, fear and emotion of that age. captured between the innocence of youth and the freedom of adulthood these teens are neither sexual nor innocent and uncertain of where they stand. the stark reality of Henson’s works is what is truly gripping. the uncertainty is palpable and it is probably that which has everyone in a bind. It’s honesty is so compelling.
the key word here is sexualized. and sexualization of minors is an issue. but these pieces are not pornographic, they are not titillating or sexy. I think they are the opposite in fact. Henson has always received permission from his subjects and their parents and is noted by other artists and his models for conscientiousness. the treatment of him in this case is disgusting.