In a recent issue of O magazine an article was printed praising on ongoing art exhibit that displays photographs of nude women. Many of the women featured in this exhibit are victims of personal trauma such as sexual abuse, eating disorders, breast cancer and the like. It features women of all ages, race and body types.
From an artistic standpoint one could conceivably see this work as a beautiful and powerful display of healing and triumph. It’s being applauded for bringing the issues of body image and the restoration of human dignity into public discussion.
It also aims to challenge our cultural discomfort with nudity as well. The prevailing message of the exhibit is that our bodies are not dirty or shameful objects, but rather glorious expressions of creative beauty. Which no doubt could bring up many points for discussion and debate about the cultural origins of the guilt and shame associated with nudity.
And I guess that’s the point of art really; to evoke dialogue. So in that sense I “get” what the artist is trying to accomplish with this exhibit.
I guess the problem for me lies in the part I mentioned earlier about the exhibit displaying nude photos of women of “all ages.”
From the crowning head of a newborn baby to the withered form of a 96-year-old woman, the full spectrum of a woman’s life-cycle is represented in this exhibit and its book counterpart. This means that the exhibit also includes nude photos of girls between the ages of 4 through 14. A would-be prime sampling for pedophile voyeurs.
And with this, of course, there are questions to be asked regarding the razor-thin line between art and pornography when it comes to young girls.
Nudity seems at place when when talking about photos of babies and toddlers. Photographers like Anne Geddes have made a career out of shooting babies and young children in the buff. And most people would never call into question the appropriateness of their work. And while the display of nude photographs of consenting adult women tiptoes much closer toward the line between art and eroticism, I will concede that it is possible to capture those images in a way that most would not consider to be pornographic.
But when it comes to the budding sexuality of young girls I fear this exhibit may be crossing the line into an area that goes beyond artistic expression and possibly borders on criminal. Among the photographs displayed in this exhibit are one of a seven-year-old girl whose breasts are just starting to take form; another photo shows a fully developed 14-year-old including her pubic area. And there are plenty more examples like these.
If the federal government found such images on my computer, I would likely be looking at a prison sentence. If I were to display such images on a website and charge people to see them, I’d probably be looking at a much longer prison sentence. But behind the safe confines of an art gallery wall, or in bound pages in a book available at Barnes and Noble, these photos are classified as art.
Now trust me, I’m not lobbying for the decency standards to be lowered so that images like these can become commonplace. But I am calling into the question Oprah’s decision to endorse a book that displays images that border so closely on child pornography. Especially when she knows the pain first-hand of being sexually abused at a young age.
I’m also curious about the parental responsibility in all this. If a photographer ever approached me to take nude photos of my child, you’d sure as hell never hear me tell my kid to “say cheese.” You’d probably never find the photographer’s mangled dead body either.
In an age when sexual misconduct against children is so rampant, shouldn’t we be erring on the side of extreme caution when it comes to stuff like this? What kind of parent would willingly offer up their child as a sacrifice to the leering eyes of a would-be pedophile? All in the name of art? And now with the endorsement of the most powerful woman on the planet who is was victim of sexual abuse herself?
What was Oprah thinking?