Police said yesterday they expected to file charges over a Sydney art exhibition that the Australian prime minister called revolting for its portrayal of nude 12- and 13-year-old children.
The exhibit by leading Australian photographer Bill Henson was suspended by police just ahead of its scheduled opening on Thursday night, following public outrage.
It included large photographic prints of naked children, including a frontal image of a teenage girl.
Police removed more than 20 photographs from the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery yesterday.
“Police are investigating this matter and it is likely that we will proceed to prosecution on the offense of publishing an indecent article under the Crimes Act,” Local Area Commander Allan Sicard said.
He would not specify who was likely to be charged.
Sicard said some of the photos depicted a 13-year-old girl “in a sexual context.”
Henson and the gallery agreed on Thursday to temporarily suspend the show to allow investigators to speak to the children and their parents, police said. Henson’s exhibition consisted of 41 photographs.
The Web site for the gallery went offline to remove the photos.
It was back online yesterday afternoon, with a statement saying the exhibition would reopen without the controversial images.
“Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery will remain closed while the current exhibition is rehung” the statement jointly issued with Henson said. The statement defended Henson’s reputation as an internationally respected contemporary artist.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd weighed in on the issue during a morning interview on Nine Network television.
“I think they’re revolting. Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected,” Rudd said. “I have a very deep view of this. For God’s sake let’s just allow kids to be kids, whatever the artistic view or the merits of that sort of stuff. Frankly I don’t think there are any.”
Child protection group Braveheart labeled the photos child pornography and exploitation and called for Henson and the gallery to be prosecuted.
Child protection advocate Hetty Johnston said the photographer and exhibitor should both be prosecuted.
“You can call it anything you want, but at the end of the day, these are images of naked adolescents,” Johnston said.
“We all have a responsibility to look after children. Putting naked photos up there on public display in a gallery ... and even on the Internet is just totally betraying our duty of care to children,” Johnston said.
In media interviews ahead of the exhibition, Henson said he left interpretation of the images to audiences.
“You can’t control the way individuals respond to the work,” he said, saying he photographed adolescents because they reflected a humanity and vulnerability.
Some artists and gallery patrons viewed the shutdown as censorship.
“I think the sexualization of children is an extremely important [issue],” art market analyst Michael Reid said. “The question is: ‘Was there consent?’ which I can’t answer, and ‘Has the image been sexualized?’ In my opinion, it wasn’t.”