Artist Beats Pornography Charge –

Artist Beats Pornography Charge –

I recently wrote a post on the Australian photographer Bill Henson who was facing child pornography charges for using images of naked children in his work. After raiding the gallery where Henson’s work was about to go on show and sparking an international debate, the police made the decision on Friday afternoon not to pursue the prosecution of Bill Henson. This decision came after the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecution advised the police that the case was not strong enough to result in a conviction. In order for Henson to be convicted the police would have to be able to prove that the children in the images had been sexualised (which they couldn’t) as per section 91G of the NSW Crimes Act which states that:

(3) For the purposes of this section, a child is used by a person for pornographic purposes if:

(a) the child is engaged in sexual activity, or

(b) the child is placed in a sexual context, or

(c) the child is subjected to torture, cruelty or physical abuse (whether or not in a sexual context),

Ironically, the media coverage that the Henson saga has received because of the complaint made by Child welfare advocate Hetti Johnston has resulted in images of Henson’s work being seen by far more people than would have seen the works had the complaint not be made. In reality, Hetti Johnston and the other complainants have inadvertantly caused the very images that they were trying to censor to become more readily accessible and initiated a series of events that has led to the legalisation of the artworks they were attempting to get banned.

The support that Henson has received from the art world will have done wonders for his international profile and his future career especially now that his works that include images of naked children have been given the all clear by the law. I have no doubt that art lovers and freedom advocates all over the world will be buying Bill Henson’s work as a sign of support for the artist and an act of defiance against those that wish to censor and restrict artistic expression. Although I am glad that Henson will not be charged I do hope that the debate will continue and, that as a result of this saga, even more will be done to combat the exploitation of children.

For further information on legalities of the Bill Henson case see response from the Arts Law Centre of Australia below:

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

4 Responses

  1. Yet you will get those who say:

    “I have freedom to express my art.” – I have been screaming at people on ArtReview posts about this subject and others. They still believe they have freedom… Maybe another few years of maturing as artists and we will have a fine group of people and thinkers?

    Thank you for posting this.

  2. I wonder how much it cost in Police and assorted administration to reach this conclusion. A la Haneef? Just a thought.

  3. […] debate, the police made the decision on Friday afternoon not to pursue the prosecution of Bill Open Letter in Support of Bill Henson theatre notesMay 27, 2008 … As the letter makes clear, […]

  4. The stuff is ilegal in London, so it’s not art, how can it be art if it is llegal in London? It’s a no-brainer!

    And in Milan, well, he’s not like their golden boy, who was the best painterof the 17th century, when did that Oz ego get to be bigger than a planet?

    So, he’s a trash photographer, gothic corpse, he was good in a regular way once. For a technical artist, that simply doesn’t do it. These days he’s just a child pornographer.

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