Art of Woman

Sydney Children's Hospital withdraws art exhibition

A photograph of a boy by Archibald Prize winning artist, Del Kathryn Barton, has caused Sydney Children’s Hospital to cancel a charity fundraiser exhibition, “Out Of The Comfort Zone”.

It is a beautiful photograph with the boy standing in front of a rose bush and decorated with toy eyes. His stance is relaxed and observing the viewer. He is wearing slacks, but no shirt. Unfortunately the Sydney Children’s Hospital board has deemed this image as inappropriate to use in their fundraising art exhibition - because of a lack of a shirt.

This is very sad. When did a child’s chest become offensive? Do we have to place children in Burkas to satisfy the conservatives? Artists are becoming afraid to represent children at all.

“The fear around any form of representation of children is rendering them invisible.” Tamara Winikoff from the National Association for the Visual Arts said.

“The depiction of children in art has steadily diminished in recent decades as attitudes to childhood itself have changed.” Felicity Fenner, Guest editor, Artlink magazine.

Surely a children’s hospital should celebrate depictions of children, especially beautiful images such as this one. I cannot fathom why the photo is deemed inappropriate by the hospital board. The boy was Del Kathryn Barton’s son and he is not doing anything provocative.

If a bare chested child is seen as offensive, then heaven help the surf life-saving community. Life-savers have been an integral part of Australia’s identity, along with beaches and the outdoors generally. Go to any beach or swimming pool in the country and you will see dozens of bare chested children playing joyously, feeling free.

These incidents are becoming more frequent. Art is being censored by conservative attitudes that restrict artists’ freedom of expression. I do not think that art should be held to ransom by a small alarmist minority. Do not get me wrong, artistic freedom is not a licence to harm anyone. But there is absolutely no evidence that any harm has been done or even has the potential to be done by showing this photo. Is our community becoming afraid of the body? Are some people so afraid of their sexuality that they are projecting their sexuality onto children. This boy is not posed in a sexy way, he is simply standing. He is obviously not afraid of the camera or the viewer. He does not look pressured in any way.

As I said in my Christmas Greetings, God made our bodies and we should take joy in that and celebrate how wonderful our bodies are. We should all feel a great sense of dignity in living in bodies that God has made. “For we are God’s workmanship,” Ephesians 2:10. This boy stands with dignity.

As an artist, I am concerned what this means for my art practice. Some of my women look very young but I make sure all my models are over 18, even checking their ID if I am unsure.

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