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Art Gallery of South Australia

5 June 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:37): I rise to express outrage at the campaign being waged by the Hon. Sarah Game and others to censor the content of our state Art Gallery. I must say that it is hypocritical to see this crusade to cancel artwork being led by the One Nation party, a political party that has long opposed so-called cancel culture. Indeed, the leader of One Nation, Senator Pauline Hanson, has claimed that cancel culture is killing debate and freedom of speech in this country.

The One Nation party certainly has a bizarre world view. They believe it is okay to promote transphobia and racism, and to do so with impunity. They argue that those offensive views should not be censored, but apparently exposure to provocative art is all a bit too much, that is a bridge too far. It is a complete nonsense.

The two sculptures that have been singled out by the Hon. Ms Game, Mark Quinn's Buck with Cigar, which is a sculpture of a transgender activist, Buck Angel, and Patricia Piccinini's Big Mother, I understand have been on display in the Art Gallery since 2010 and 2011. The Hon. Ms Game claims that the artworks represent sexualised imagery; however, they are not sexualised simply because they depict the body. Indeed, celebrating the body in all of its shapes and sizes has been a feature of art for generations. It is not for politicians to determine which depictions of the body are considered art and worthy of inclusion in our public access Art Gallery.

I note that the Art Gallery of South Australia rebuts Ms Game's assertions that these works are unsuitable for children. A spokesperson told the Adelaide Advertiser:

We prepare our visitors including school groups and encourage pre-visits from teachers and educators.

Art at AGSA is curated to spark conversation and debate, and sometimes may be controversial. It is the role of artists and galleries…to encourage viewers to see the world, culture, and politics from different perspectives.

One of Ms Game's concerns seems to be the proximity of one of the artworks to a painting of the baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Presumably, the Hon. Ms Game does not think it is confronting for children to be exposed to artwork depicting the crucifixion of Christ, artwork that is commonplace in many galleries around the world.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Italy and see some amazing artwork firsthand. My favourite was the Statue of David. Seventeen feet tall, carved out of marble, it is a remarkable sight. Made back in 1504, it is considered one of the most famous artworks in the world. I do hate to offend the sensibilities of the One Nation Party, but the statue is of a naked man, shock horror. David, of course, has not been immune to controversy. There was a time when a fig leaf was used to protect his modesty.

I had thought that those days of censorship were long gone, but sadly I was mistaken. Last year, the principal of Tallahassee Classical School in Florida's state capital was forced to resign after parents complained about a lesson that included a photo of David and the work was described by some as pornographic. As the Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, observed on Twitter, 'Mistaking art for pornography is simply ridiculous.'

Thankfully, the Hon. Ms Game's approach has not infiltrated Roman Florence, where there are still vast numbers of naked statues in public places. Perhaps the Hon. Ms Game believes these statues should be covered up or that children should be blindfolded or told to avert their eyes as they walk through these classical cities, or is art just considered adult only when it depicts a transgender body?

It is a real shame to see this kind of divisive politics being imported into Australia. This is the latest terrain in the culture wars of the far right. Recently in New South Wales, there was a ban imposed by Cumberland City Council on books talking about same-sex parenting on the basis that this is somehow disturbing for children. Thankfully, that insanity was overturned, but I do fear what we are seeing here is a move towards censoring our public spaces, such as our libraries and our galleries. Dictating what people can read and the artwork they can consume is very dangerous in our democracy.

There is a push here by the far right to frame diversity, whether that diversity be reflected through art or literature, as being dangerous and threatening, even corrupting for children. I know the government are fond of dealing with One Nation, but I urge them to resist this temptation. They must not follow the far right down this rabbit hole. South Australia has a long tradition of being freethinking, let's keep it that way. As Alanis Morissette once said, 'censorship is about fear. It's just fear being projected onto art.' But the last word must go to Virginia Woolf, who wrote, 'Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.'

Time expired.