I had put this on the back burner, but a recent article on Polixeni Papapetrou has prompted me to bring it forward. Polexini is an artist who got into the usual strife over taking nude photos of her daughter Olympia. This was all part of the Bill Henson furor and it erupted because Art Monthly Australia weighed into the debate by publishing one of Polixeni’s photos of Olympia on its cover.
The photo is only nude in a series based on the work of Lewis Carroll; in this case Beatrice Hatch by the Seaside. It is the only nude in a series titled Dreamchild from 2003
In the greater context of the naked child in art this image is mild. The pose is coy. Yet some of the extremists claimed this image was ‘sexualised’. Even more amazingly, the Australian Prime Minister of the day, Kevin Rudd, declared the image of Olympia ‘disgusting’ and raised the possibility of withdrawing the funding of Art Monthly. This was pure populist politics from an openly conservative Christian politician. It was also a display of his shameful ignorance.
Olympia would have none of it and bravely decided to speak out, telling Rudd that she was offended by his outburst.
Once again we have an example where the subject of the nude photo has spoken out in defence of the photo. Shouldn’t we listen?
Unfortunately apparently not. The critics argued that Olympia had somehow been brainwashed or coached by her parents. They could not allow the possibility that children might enjoy participating in the creation of art and have no problem with posing nude.
This touches on one of the themes of this blog, the war over childhood. Moral conservatives desperately want to control how children are raised. Their vision of childhood doesn’t include children raised in unusual circumstances. Olympia’s mother is an artist and her father is a prominent art critic. Personally I suspect she’s had a wonderful childhood and she seems highly intelligent, composed and articulate. I’ve known children raised in ‘alternative’ and ‘bohemian’ circles and it usually is a wonderful childhood that offers greater stimulation than that offered by mediocre, conservative families.
Her mother Polixeni, in a video shot before the controversy, explains how Olympia loved to play dress ups and pose for her mother’s photos (first two minutes).
This controversy erupted around four years ago. What of Olympia and her family today? Olympia still poses for her mother. From all accounts they are very close and Olympia is doing exceptionally well. Polixeni’s latest exhibition is called The Dreamkeepers. You can relax, there are no nudes – but then, Polixeni only ever did a rare few anyway. It was all a storm in a Mad Hatter’s teacup.