By JEREMY ROSE
Okay, describing the above photo as banned might be pushing it a bit. My daughter, Hanahiva, is in year nine at Wellington High School and was asked by her art teacher to create a “controversial” piece of art. The Rose Bible, above, is the result. Hanahiva was happy with it and asked whether a photo of the work could be included in her portfolio for her end of year parent teacher meeting. The request was denied by her form teacher on the grounds that some people might find the Rose Bible offensive.
I don’t know about other people, but as a proud third generation orthodox atheist with the surname Rose I was delighted with Hanahiva’s effort. Personally, I find setting out to create controversial artworks a bit hackneyed but given the brief I reckon she did bloody well and would have been proud to see it included in her end-of-year portfolio.
And compared to the treatment dished out to most of the Gideons’ Bibles handed out when I was at school, Hanahiva’s effort seems almost worshipful.
All in all the form teacher’s decision is more a case of over cautiousness – rather than censorship. But if you’re interested in real cases of New Zealand censorship and happen to be in Dunedin between now and January a visit to the new exhibition Heresy, Sedition, Obscenity: The Book Challenged at the de Beer gallery is a must.
Here’s the press release announcing the exhibition:
DO NOT READ – BANNED
‘Instruct watch for new novel entitled ‘Butchers Shop’ by Jean Devanny Wellington lady Publishers Duckworth, London, alleged depiction station life New Zealand disgusting indecent communistic’ – Bert (London).
A telegram received from London, 1 March 1926, addressed to Frank David Thomson, the Prime Minister’s secretary.
Societies have always wrestled with censorship. Indeed the suppression or attempted suppression of material considered offensive, objectionable, or a threat to security (real or imagined) is as old as literature itself. And books, as transmitters of literature, have been the excellent targets. For example, religious works such as the Bible and the Qur’an, polemics such as Machiavelli’s The Prince or Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, socially contentious publications such as Emile Zola’s Nana or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and the so-called ‘obscene’, morally challenging books like James Joyce’s Ulysses and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In more recent times, publications that promote anarchy (The Anarchist Cookbook) and ‘whip-slash’ violence (Brother Stud; Hitch-hiking Pizza Boy) have featured more frequently.
An exhibition entitled Heresy, Sedition, Obscenity: The Book Challenged begins at the de Beer gallery, Special Collections, University of Otago, on 30 October 2009.
The exhibition not only offers a selection of some of the most famous, and lesser known books that have been banned, censored, or challenged, but it also reveals that there has been a healthy industry throughout history in the banning of books. Individual censors, Church Fathers, and various governments have all made pronouncements on books deemed injurious to the State, or status quo. Banned books have been burned in town squares, removed from public sale, and taken off the shelves of libraries and classrooms. In some instances, the author or printer of the work have been either outlawed or condemned to death.
New Zealand is not exempt. With legislation notoriously difficult and with increasing pressure to apply consistency to rulings on what was indecent or obscene, the Indecent Publications Tribunal (later the Office of Film and Literature Classification) was established in 1963. Rulings were often made on imported publications such as Nabokov’s Lolita (1960) or William Burroughs’s Dead Fingers Talk (1963). These days, ‘home-grown’ publications (and more increasingly films) have come under scrutiny.
The exhibition starts on 30 October 2009 and runs through to 29 January 2010.
Venue: De Beer Gallery, Special Collections, 1st floor, Central University Library
Hours: 8.30 to 5.00 Monday to Friday