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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 12:56 GMT
'Sex act' exhibit defended by gallery
A still from the exhibition
The work is a "comment" on capitalist exploitation
An explicit art exhibition showing a video of men performing a sex act has come under fire in Birmingham.

A city councillor is being backed by a children's charity after she called for youngsters to be banned from viewing the display at the Ikon Gallery.

But the gallery's director Jonathan Watkins said the work confronts difficult issues about the sex industry.

He has defended the video's inclusion, pointing out that signs have been put up warning parents.

Explicit video

The video, played on a continuous loop to visitors, shows a group of 10 Cuban men performing a sex act.

Mr Watkins insisted the work is a comment on the commercial exploitation of people but admitted the video is extremely explicit.

The exhibition includes work from Santiago Sierra in which the artist pays a standard wage to groups of workers, including prostitutes, to perform "repetitive and obtrusive" acts.

Birmingham councillor Deidre Alden described the video as more like pornography than art and is consulting the police to find out if the exhibition can be stopped.

Ikon Gallery
The video "has not shocked" gallery visitors
"It's certainly controversial but I don't think that it makes it good art," she said.

"To my mind it's the kind of thing you expect to see in a sex cinema not in an art gallery which ordinary people may go to with children and they don't expect to be confronted with full frontal male nudity.

"I certainly don't think children should be allowed in, they wouldn't be allowed in a cinema.

"If children are allowed in a cinema with adult supervision, as it says in the Ikon Gallery, it would be a PG and I don't think that such a thing would be shown in a PG film."

A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said: "This seems totally inappropriate to be on display when children and young people could possibly see it."

In addition to the warning signs put up at the entrance to the exhibition, invigilators have been employed to tell adults with children about the nature of the display.

Legal advice

"This will be nothing new to 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds, the idea that only adults should see this material is ludicrous," said Mr Watkins.

"This work is not about exciting people, it is not in the least bit titillating, it's making a serious point about the exploitation of people in the sex industry in the Third World."

The exhibition, the first in Britain dedicated to Santiago Sierra, has been shown in the artist's hometown of Mexico City and in Germany, he said.

Mr Watkins added: "This has been in art galleries around the world and the art world is not going to stop because of a city councillor.

"This is about the real world, it's not a bad idea for people to confront it," said Mr Watkins.

"We carefully considered this work, not on an ethical point of view because there is no right to censor this kind of work, but because we have to be careful about children.

"We have taken so much legal advice about this film and our lawyers tell us that it is not illegal."

The gallery, at Brindleyplace in the centre of the city, is paid for by the Arts Council and West Midlands Arts but this exhibition is largely funded by private money, mainly from a Mexican art foundation.

A spokesman for West Midlands Police said they would look into the matter if they receive a complaint.

He added the exhibition could be viewed as obscene depending on the circumstances.

Click here to go to BBC Birmingham Online
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