Friday, May 23, 2008

Art and the Budding Maiden

I'm rather interested in the brou-ha-ha over Bill Henson's current exhibition in which photos of a girl in the early stages of adolescence have been considered way too "sexual" and "distasteful" by the media and politicians. Apparently he might incur obscenity charges because of the photos. As soon as I saw the invitation to this now infamous show (we have a copy of it at work) I immediately thought of this Blind Faith album cover pictured here. While Anna Schwartz in The Age has some interesting things to say about child sexualisation and how yes, while it certainly exists, Bill Henson's work is not the place to be looking for it, I don't know that I've ever heard any complaints about this obviously much more sexual image here. I do recall reading that the band asked this girl's parents if she could pose like this on the album's cover, and they said yes (it was the 70's after all). I wonder if it is a case of it being a Rock Music context and am reminded of Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page's 14-year old girlfriend Lori Maddox, or The Rolling Stone bass player, Bill Wyman's 13-year old Mandy Smith - no one has ever said anything about these cases except for a bit of eye-rolling and from what I've read, both Lori's and Mandy's parents consented to the relationship (maybe because these musicians were obviously rich) - and that now reminds me of Elvis and Priscilla Presley! Another example is Jerry Lee Lewis and his 13-year old wife Myra Brown who was also his cousin and while there was parental consent here too, apparently this was a bit of a scandal in England but not in the USA. I just think that such young girls are mentally too young for sexual relationships with men in their late 20s and older, but perhaps not? Obviously men, not just decadent musicians, have been getting really young women as sexual partners for centuries - they're going to be really compliant aren't they, and they won't have had much other sexual experience with which to compare the performance of these men. NOT that I am linking such behaviour with Henson, I'm definately not, but I'm just saying that old(er) men and really young women are not anything new. While in the current climate of tension about "child sexuality" this Blind Faith image looks quite scandalous, I also think that it is actually quite an attractive image, from an artistic angle, and Henson's images are too. Although he's not my favourite artist in the world I don't think his current exhibition needs to be labelled as so terribly "sexual" - I think we're obviously betraying *our* (society's) uncomfortable-ness with and anxiety over the exposed adolescent body. There are many angles to this sort of imagery and questions about modern sexuality or lack thereof. Certainly it is a *modern* concern with "pedophilia" that has the censor's knickers in a knot and I am all for protecting young people from predatory adults. But this art kerfuffle has me seeing the question from several sides and I'm undecided on it so far. Especially since I have become aware of just how much weird and unequal sex went on in the ancient world. We're uptight about it now, and we should protect young people, but the whole question of the history of sexualities is really interesting and maybe we could have a look at that in order to contextualise ourselves in regards to "sex" today. I certainly do not think Henson's exhibition should have been closed and the prudish focus on it has actually made the images *much more* titillating rather than less. It'd have gotten much less attention if it had not been targeted as some sort of child sexploitation. Bill Henson is an aesthete, if people want to go finger-pointing why not look at proud pedophile William Burroughs? Have people forgotten that its only recently that anyone had a problem with "underage" sexuality anyway?


Caroline Tully said...

Good Opinion piece by Larissa Dubecki on Henson's photographs in today's 'Age' newspaper.

BetsyJane said...

Regarding the story (and controversy) surrounding the Blind Faith album cover more information can be found in a Wikipedia entry:

Caroline Tully said...

Yes, I linked to the Wikipedia acccount of the album cover already in the text of the post.