Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can't stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen!

Ask yourself, is this photo pornographic? Hardly, you say. And I agree. So why has it been banned from an exhibition at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB)? Because one person did not like it, complained and got their way. Now you, I and thousands of others who like our art uncensored will not get to see the picture. Where is the democracy in that? Where is the protection of free expression? Where the right to participate in a cultural life free of government interference? It should be noted that the photo was to be exhibited in a room with a notice outside warning that the content might not be suitable for children.

This is not an appeal for a free for all. Of course there is a balancing act between the demands of free expression and community values. But there are various laws and protocols in place to help adjudicate in such cases. The Australia Council for the Arts has produced a set of protocols for working with children in art. In a case like this the protocols would require the photo to be assessed by the classification board. It's hard to imagine that the image would warrant anything more than a PG classification (parental guidance recommended).

So why did no one at the BIFB have the courage and moral fibre to follow due process, a process that is designed to respect the rights of all parties, not just moral vigilantes? You guessed it, funding. Tourism Victoria - a publicly funded agency doling out your and my money and a sponsor of the show - told BIFB that to show the work might endanger next year's funding. Enough said? You bet. Self censorship is not hard to "facilitate". So now we have unelected, faceless tourism bureaucrats curating our arts shows.

So how can we - the people who can look at a photo like this and not think of sex - fight back and get the debate back on an even keel? Let's start with a boycott. Take the pledge that you will avoid the BIFB until the censorship stops and the picture is put back on show. If Tourism Victoria thinks censored art is good for tourism, let's show them it ain't.

Art can be controversial. It can generate debate. It should not be reduced to the least challenging common denominator. If Tourism Victoria cannot live with that, it should get out of sponsoring art shows. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.