An Australian arts magazine has sparked controversy by featuring a naked child on its cover. It says it did so to protest a recent furore over pictures of naked girls shot by photographer Bill Henson.
In May police had raided the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington, Sydney confiscating several images by Henson including the photographs of a naked 13-year-old girl.
The photos sparked major national debate and angered several organisations, including child-welfare groups, with Premier Morris Iemma labelling the works "offensive and disgusting".
But eventually Henson was cleared of any wrongdoing and the pictures were returned to the gallery.
AdvertisementNow the July edition of Art Monthly Australia has published the cover image in protest over the "hysteria" over Henson's work.
It also includes several provocative photos of children posing naked in adult jewellery as well as naked teenage girls, some photographs shot by Benson himself.
In the editorial, Maurice O'Riordan said he chose the 2003 picture of the young girl in the "hope of restoring some dignity to the debate" and to "validate nudity and childhood as subjects for art".
The image, taken by Melbourne-based Polixeni Papapetrou, is believed to be her own daughter.
O'Riordan, who does not have children of his own, told The Sunday Telegraph he did not care if it stirred community complaint.
"I believe the image is of a six-year-old girl," he said.
"Maybe this is bold, but I don't see the need to give in to that sort of hysteria or the prospect of complaint.
"I couldn't really understand the furore."
The artist, Papapetrou, said she supported the use of her work for the magazine's cover.
"We need to be clever enough to distinguish art from other types of images, otherwise we live in danger of eradicating any image of childhood in this culture for future generations to see."
Once there is a flood of complaint from the public and NSW Prime Minister Iemma lashed out, saying, "Images of this kind are distasteful, exploitative of children - a cheap, sick stunt at the expense of a young child," he said.
"We've now reached a sad point where some people think naked kids can boost their sales and get them a headline. We will have no role in funding them while they use images that exploit children."
Art Monthly Australia receives more than $50,000 in funding from the Federal Government's Council for the Arts and lists the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts under sponsors and partner. The State Government has issued grants to the magazine in previous years.
In a TV interview, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he couldn't stand such stuff and wondered, "How can anyone assume that a little child of six years old, eight, 10, 12, somehow is able to make that decision for themselves."
NSW community services minister Kevin Greene said the images had been inappropriately hijacked for political mileage.
"I will refer this to the Australian Classification Board tomorrow, and the community also should let (the Board) know what they think," Greene told reporters in Sydney.
Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell labelled the publication a "provocative publicity stunt" and called for a review of Arts Council's funding for the magazine.
"The public are furious about the double standards, I think taxpayers are angry when they see funds used in this way and to review it, I think, would be sensible."
Child abuse campaigners say there's an urgent need for laws to be changed in all states and territories to prevent photos of naked children from being put forward as art.
Hetty Johnston, executive director of the Bravehearts, said it was now clear that the arts community clearly could not be relied on to self-regulate themselves.
"New legislation is required across the country to remove artistic merit from child pornography laws," she stressed.