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An image of a girl

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Friday, 18 July 2008


Art, we were told last week, is about “giving people dignity”.

That’s how art critic Robert Nelson described the role of art on ABC’s PM program. “We’ve got to have faith in art,” he implored.

Nelson is the father of Olympia, whose naked photos appear in Art Monthly Australia’s latest issue. The photos were taken in 2003 by her mother, when the girl was six.

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Flicking through a copy of Art Monthly I picked up in a Canberra newsagency, I wondered if Mr Nelson had actually looked through the magazine which featured his little daughter, before he gave us his profound thoughts on art and human dignity?

Call me particular, but I don’t find images of semi-naked bound women with protruding sex organs, all that dignified.

I looked really hard, but I couldn’t see much dignity in the photograph of a Japanese school girl trussed in rope and hanging, suspended, with her skirt raised to reveal her underwear.

Torture porn just doesn’t stir my soul.

Some of Bill Henson’s images are there (of course - this issue of the magazine was a “protest” in defence of his work).

They’re followed by selections from the work of Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. Araki is probably best known for his passion for taking photos of girls and women exposed and bound.

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There’s his slumped, bound, school girl picture and an image of a woman with her clothing stripped back, the ropes squeezing her naked breasts and contorting her into a pose that displays her genitals.

A third uplifting work depicts a woman on the ground, strained forward, her naked spreading backside to the camera.

Faith in art?

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This is an expanded version of a piece ifirst published in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 10, 2008.



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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation (www.collectiveshout.org). Melinda blogs at www.melindatankardreist.com.

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