Australasian Spartacist No. 201
Partisan Defence Committee Protest Letter
Cops, Anti-Sex Bigots Target Bill Henson
Almost three weeks after police and detectives from the Child Protection and Sex Crimes Unit raided the Roslyn Oxley9 art gallery in Sydney’s suburb of Paddington, carting off some 20 artworks, including of a naked 13-year-old girl, by photographic artist Bill Henson, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions announced it would not pursue charges of child pornography or publishing indecent images against Henson or the art gallery as they would be unlikely to succeed. Police returned the photographs on 10 June, and the exhibition was reopened, albeit on an invite only basis as the gallery owners were fearful demented yahoos might try to damage Henson’s works.
Following the 23 May raids the gallery was the target of violent threats amid a frenzied witchhunt, fueled in good part by anti-sex witchhunters and talk-back radio bigots, that portrayed Henson and the parents of the children who had posed for him as criminals. There was however at the same time a countervailing outcry in defence of Henson. This included internationally acclaimed actress Cate Blanchett and over forty other notable cultural figures signing an open letter to prime minister Kevin Rudd opposing his attack on the photos. The letter read in part, “If an example is made of Bill Henson
it is hard to believe that those who have sought to bring these charges will stop with him” (Herald Sun, 28 May).
Of course Henson’s photos have found many defenders in the world of polite society who at the same time go along with state censorship of what is deemed “pornography.” But we are for freedom of expression, whether it is an art show or a seedy “adult” porn shop. The government has no business telling people what they can read or look at: such attitudes on free speech lead straight to political repression.
As the U.S. Partisan Defense Committee said in a 1987 Supreme Court amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief on the side of Indiana booksellers against a government anti-porn witchhunt trying to shut them down:
“The Spartacist League has a longstanding position against government regulation of private life
. Religious beliefs and determinations of morality cannot dictate what is permissible for man to read, think, fantasize—be it the classics or ‘smut’; erotica or pornography. Absent physical harm to another, it is no concern of the state.”
—“No to RICO Sex Witchhunt!”, Women and Revolution No. 35, Summer 1988
We reprint below a PDC statement faxed to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in NSW protesting the attempted censorship.
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5 June 2008
Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sydney
The threat of child pornography and obscenity/indecency charges against internationally renowned photographic artist Bill Henson and the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery is an outrage! On Friday 23 May, the gallery was raided by NSW police and Henson’s works featuring a nude 13-year-old were seized. Such witchhunting censorship carried out by the NSW police at the behest of the NSW ALP Iemma government, the federal ALP Rudd government and sanctimonious anti-porn crusaders projecting themselves as “child protection” advocates, is an attack on freedom of expression in the interest of enforcing a twisted morality rooted in anti-woman, anti-gay and anti-sex bigotry. No doubt whipped up by comments such as the prime minister’s declaration that the photographs are “revolting,” the police actions have generated widespread hysteria, with galleries from Albury to Newcastle rushing to remove Henson’s works following police intervention.
Real obscenity lies in the actions of the federal and state ALP governments, including the imperialist military occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor, the deeply racist police/military occupation of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, and the arrest and beating of leftist anti-APEC demonstrators last year. Indeed, from the stealing of generations of Aboriginal children, to the incarceration of refugee children in hell-hole detention centres, to the terrorising of Iraqi, Afghan and East Timorese women and children, the capitalist state has well and truly demonstrated that it, and not the artistic community, is the systematic abuser of children.
Bill Henson must not join the long list of those who have fallen prey to the Goebbels-esque Australian censors. These include novelists D.H. Lawrence and Philip Roth, and revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin, whose treatise against the capitalist state, State and Revolution, was banned in the 1930s. The Big Brothers of the state legislature have absolutely no right to force their moralism on others. We demand: An end to all obscenity and anti-porn laws! State out of the bedroom and art galleries! Hands off Bill Henson! Return Henson’s artworks to the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery now!