Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 17:24 UK

Blanchett steps into nude art row

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett has defended an artist whose portraits of nude children have sparked a censorship row in Australia.

Police shut down photographer Bill Henson's exhibition, seized images and are also considering charging him.

His work, featuring naked 13-year-olds, was condemned by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as "revolting".

But in an open letter, Blanchett and 42 other leading arts figures said the action risked damaging Australia's cultural reputation.

'Social freedom'

"The potential prosecution of one of our most respected artists is no way to build a creative Australia and does untold damage to our cultural reputation," the letter said, addressed to Australia's environment minister and the premier of New South Wales state.

"We should remember that an important index of social freedom, in earlier times or in repressive regimes elsewhere in the world, is how artists and art are treated by the state.

"We wish to make absolutely clear that none of us endorses, in any way, the abuse of children," they said.

"Henson's work has nothing to do with child pornography and, according to the judgment of some of the most respected curators and critics in the world, it is certainly art."

I gave my reaction, I stand by that reaction and I don't apologise for it and I won't be changing it.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

The exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney was shut down by police before it could even open last week after some people complained about photographs of naked 12 and 13-year-old boys and girls.

Police seized 20 photographs from the gallery, most of them of a 13-year-old girl.

They said were seeking to interview the subjects of the photos and their parents and were still investigating whether the photographs violate obscenity laws.

'Innocence'

Prime Minister Rudd has stood by his criticism saying: "I gave my reaction, I stand by that reaction and I don't apologise for it and I won't be changing it."

"I am passionate about children having innocence in their childhood," he said.

Australian child advocacy group Bravehearts labelled the photographs as child pornography and exploitation and have called for Henson and the gallery to be prosecuted.

Two other galleries in New South Wales state have since removed works by Henson from their walls.

Henson, 52, has not spoken publicly since the controversy erupted.




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