A photograph of a nude six-year-old girl on the cover of a high-brow Australian art magazine on Monday sparked an uproar after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called it disgusting, infuriating liberal art critics.
This month’s taxpayer-funded Art Monthly Australia magazine placed the photograph of the young dark-haired girl on the cover, sitting and with one nipple showing, to protest censorship of a recent photo exhibition featuring similarly naked children.
“I can’t stand this stuff,” said Rudd, a staunch Christian whose centre-left Labour government won a sweeping victory over conservatives last year, in part on a vow to reinvigorate Australia’s small but influential arts community.
“We’re talking about the innocence of little children here. A little child cannot answer for themselves about whether they wish to be depicted in this way,” Rudd added, as officials said they would review the magazine’s funding.
Magazine editor Maurice O’Riordan said he hoped the July edition of the monthly magazine would restore “dignity to the debate” about artistic depictions of children and anyone else.
The magazine cover followed confiscation by police in May of photographs of a young girl taken by artist Bill Henson and briefly on display in a Sydney art gallery.
The cover photo, which had been on public exhibition in Australia for some time, was taken in 2003 by Melbourne photographer Polixeni Papapetrou and depicted her own daughter, Olympia Nelson, now aged 11.
The Australian Childhood Foundation said parents had no ethical right to consent to nude photographs being taken of their children, as it could have a psychological impact in later years.
But Nelson and her father, art critic and professor Robert Nelson, defended the photo in a press conference outside their home in the southern city of Melbourne.
“I love the photo so much. I think that the picture my mum took of me had nothing to do with being abused, and I think nudity can be a part of art,” Olympia Nelson said.
Rudd last week met leaders of Australia’s six states and said he would forge a national child protection system following a spate of shocking cases of child neglect and abuse.
His government also criticised Australia’s “binge drinking” culture and sharply lifted taxes on so-called “alcopops” blending alcoholic drinks like vodka or rum with soft drinks and juices, making them popular with young adults, especially women.
“We’re sick of being unjustly targeted by a small minority group of wowsers,” Australian Hotels Association chief executive Sally Fielke said, using an Australian term for an excessively puritanical person.
Fielke represents mainly the $25 billion local alcohol industry, but her thoughts echoed those of many social commentators and liberals.
Martyn Jolly, the head of photography and media arts at the elite Australian National University, said of the latest art controversy that the Henson photographs had been reviewed and approved by government censors.
“We aren’t going to let politicians who are always wanting to jump on populous bandwagons dictate what we can and can’t show,” Jolly said.