Scoop Review of Books

The Rose Bible and other Banned Books

Rose Bible 2
Rose Bible by Hanahiva 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:


‘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


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  1. Kerry Tankard, 31. October 2009, 19:36

    Conceptually, I think the Rose Bible is a great piece of art.

    I could think of half a dozen links between the noun rose, and early biblical concepts, too.
    Very clever young laydee, I’m impressed.

    Then the exhibition sounds really interesting, too – what to do, what to do, have to think of another reason to visit Dunedin!

  2. Alyzza, 1. November 2009, 11:21

    I was impressed by this piece of art; it didn’t offend my religious sensibilities. In fact, I found it kind of touching for reasons I can’t quite articulate. It showed respect for our sacred text while at the same time demonstrating how the pages can be folded to fit an individual’s conception of how they should look.

    Your daughter could have created a grotesque example of shock-art with the Bible as its centerpiece. Instead, she folded the pages into a symbol of fragile beauty. Likewise, people of faith shape the Bible as much as it shapes them. Some choose to let it beautify them and make them better people. Others accentuate the most inhumane parts of the Bible, using ancient beliefs (and atrocities) as justification for modern bigotry.

    I don’t know if this is the message your daughter intended with her work, but that’s what I got from it even at first glance. I’d love to hang a print of this at my place.

    Thanks. I’m sure Hanahiva would be happy to email you a jpeg of the pic.

  3. Jorge, 1. November 2009, 11:39

    WTF is an “orthodox atheist”?

    Jeremy Rose responds: It’s a joke…

    But here are some possible definitions:

    Someone who sees the funny side in a religious person getting angry at the term Orthodox Atheist;

    Someone who if God tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I exist.” Would reply: “You’re not worth the trouble, too many crimes have been committed in your name for me to want to have anything to do with you.”;

    Someone who has no book to consult or preacher to ask what an orthodox atheist is so has to resort to making up definitions on the spot.

  4. DM, 1. November 2009, 11:48

    Controversial in the treatment of the Bible — that, I can see. But I also see the compliment of the symbology, too.

    I think your daughter’s teacher is a twit, myself.

  5. Beth, 1. November 2009, 11:55

    I wonder who the teach thought would be offended? Did she come out and say Atheists? Sounds like the teacher is just afraid of her own shadow.

    The picture is wonderful, and I think she should place copies for sale on Etsy, I am sure people would love to have it as art in there home.

  6. Anon 1:50, 1. November 2009, 12:14

    I too, am working on a bit of art based on religious writings and anatomical research.

    I call it “Koran Sphincter”.

    Jeremy Rose responds: Not particularly clever and certainly not pretty. But if you do get it made and photograph it I’ll be happy to publish it along with your name and address;-)

  7. Bill, 1. November 2009, 12:16

    I really like the Rose Bible. Having Esoteric beliefs might have something to do with it, though.

  8. Heather Chambers, 1. November 2009, 12:17

    So they asked her to make a controversial work of art, and then banned her from using it in her portfolio because, essentially, she’d done too good a job? What morons.

  9. Laffin hard, 1. November 2009, 12:20

    Wow , an athiest gets some of the censorship they’re always trying to shove onto other people and it ‘just not right”
    Knock me over with a feather.

    You’ve lost me. What censorship do we atheists try and shove down your throat? – Jeremy Rose

  10. RJ, 1. November 2009, 13:32

    WTF is an orthodox athiest?

    Jeremy Rose responds: It’s a joke…
    But here are some possible definitions:

    Someone who sees the funny side in a religious person getting angry at the term Orthodox Atheist;

    Someone who if God tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I exist.” Would reply: “You’re not worth the trouble, too many crimes have been committed in your name for me to want to have anything to do with you.”;

    Someone who has no book to consult or preacher to ask what an orthodox atheist is so has to resort to making up definitions on the spot.

  11. David Moore, 1. November 2009, 14:10

    I’m a conservative Christian, and I find your girl’s art beautiful. Really. I don’t know if you’re aware of the layers of symbolism, but I find “The Rose Bible” powerful. What book is it open to, btw?

  12. Kris, 1. November 2009, 14:19

    Rose Bible? Bible Rose?… :) I like it though, it is inventive, it is precisely what the teacher asked for, and as far as the art goes it is not bad at all. Congratulations to the young lady, I’m impressed.
    The teacher on the other hand… imagination failed to predict results of his/her own actions. But maybe in this case it is a good thing :)

  13. Diego, 1. November 2009, 14:19

    Kudos! from Buenos Aires, under a Halloween downpour, I truly appreciate the photo, the concept and the exhibition. Too bad I am 15 hours away . . .

  14. your mom, 1. November 2009, 15:56

    “3rd generation orthodox atheist”? Are you fucking retarded? Just asking.

    Jeremy Rose responds: Hi Mom, at first I thought you must be communicating from the “other side”… but then I remembered you spelt your name “Mum.” So whoever you are, as far as I know I’m not a retard but then if I was would I know?

  15. E, 1. November 2009, 17:22

    To David Moore,

    Looks like 1 Corinthians, and I believe I see Chapter 3 there on the lower right.

    To Hanahiva,

    Brilliant work.

  16. A Simple Man Trying to Make His Way in the Universe, 1. November 2009, 21:43

    I’m just venturing a guess here:

    Perhaps the teacher was hoping for ‘art’ that would be controversial — to Christians. That is, had Rose done something degrading/demeaning/destructive (alliteration unintended) to the Bible that would have offended believers, THAT would have been ok, and possibly given high marks. Had she taken a picture of it in a toilet, the
    teacher may well have praised her ‘artistic brillance’ allthewhile defending her ‘controverisal’ piece with howls and shreiks of “artistic license”.

    As it is, Rose’s creation treats the Bible with (loving?) respect and therefore missed the point of the assignment: to tick off Christians. The teacher missed out on an opportunity to bemoan the “intollerance” of people upset abut a picture of a Bible in a toilet, and Rose’s portfolio will be minus a beautiful, honest item.

    Out of curiousity: what grade did she receive? Did she have the opportuninty to submit a different piece??

    Lastly: why would an assignment be made to “create a controversial piece of art”, if there was the stipulation (unspoken at the time) that controversial pieces would be rejected???!!!??? Does the ‘art’ ‘teacher’ have tenure?

  17. Harlan Ellison, 1. November 2009, 22:21

    God save us from air-headed, under 35 year old parents who think that every bit of third rate cr*p their kids produce is something that needs to be shared with everyone else on the planet! Stop boring us and get over yourself! Egotistical prat!

    Your call on whether I’m air-headed. But sad to say I’m definitely not under 35 – JR

  18. Charles Thornton, 2. November 2009, 0:11

    To David – please remember Poe’s Law “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.”

    To Hanahiva – that is a wonderful piece of work, controversial on many levels, nicely punning and in many ways respectful. Thank you for creating it and thank you to your father for publicising it.

  19. Dan, 2. November 2009, 3:48

    I see this as a most beautiful piece of work. The beauty of God’s words displayed as the beauty of His creation. Not only is the photograph a great piece of art but I, for one, would be proud to display the real thing within my own home.

    Your daughter should be very proud of what she has created. Encourage her to listen to her own heart, follow her own dreams and to never let others silence her because of their own fears.

  20. BruceLOTC, 2. November 2009, 6:41

    Ah, who watches the censors? I am against censorship in any form, as the free flow of information is needed for freedom and thought. Also, I really like the concept of turning the bible into a rose. Both are beautiful in their own way. By the by, I am agnostic. lol. And may I request a better jpeg from your daughter also? It is really very well done. kudos to her.

  21. R. E. Lawry, 2. November 2009, 8:34

    Very Pretty. When is she going to do one with a Koran or perhaps some Hindu texts. I am sorry some Christians(or All) offend you. Perhaps you should check out the noted athiests, Lenin, J. Stalin, Chairman Mao and Pol Pot. Also check out the House of Peace, the Iranians and Saudis can help you out there.
    Anyway where is the censorship? You have put it all over the net. Let the Teacher, teach.

  22. Mary, 2. November 2009, 12:22

    I love it. I would buy it.

    That could be arranged – or perhaps just a copy of the photo;-) – Jeremy Rose

  23. James, 3. November 2009, 14:25

    Controvertial? Yes!
    Inspired? Yes!

    Your girl has talent. The teacher should take a lesson from her.

  24. Maggy, 12. November 2009, 22:44

    This sounds familiar…

    A few years ago my youngest daughter Flora was doing NCEA level 3 photography at Wellington High. She had discussed her end of year project with teacher through the year etc, and unsuprisingly, for a 16-17yr old was interested in angsty/gothy themes and decided to have her portfolio focussing on pain-medication.
    A week or so before final hand-in, the teacher objected to her photos that showed a jar of pills (panadol) – as it would give the impression that Wellington High condoned drugs. My daughter was told to remove a certain number of images from her boards.

    At that point she just gave up….. I convinced her to take some different shots and try to salvage her boards ,…. but she failed the unit.

    Either the teacher clarifies the limits of what is acceptable before a student starts their work, or they butt out of the process.

  25. Erin, 19. August 2011, 11:55

    OK, so they asked her to produce a piece of controversial art and then didn’t allow her to publish it because it was too controversial. Stupid people.
    I like the piece.