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Mapplethorpe restricted in Australia

The decision of the OFLC Review Board to Restrict Mapplethorpe's Pictures.


2nd MARCH 2001



PRESENT:		Ms Barbara Biggins (Convenor)

			Mr Jonathan O'Dea (Deputy Convenor)

			Ms Glenda Banks

			Dr Robin Harvey	


APPLICANT:	Commissioner of Police, South Australia


 BUSINESS:	To review the decision of the Classification Board to assign
the classification "Unrestricted" under the Classification
(Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to "Pictures", a book
containing black and white photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.


1.	Decision

The Classification Review Board decided to set aside the decision of the
Classification Board to classify the publication Pictures
"Unrestricted", and to assign the classification "Category 1 -

Legislative provisions

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995
(the Act) governs the classification of publications and the review of
classification decisions. The Act provides that publications be
classified in accordance with the National Classification Code and the
classification guidelines.

Relevantly, section 11 of the Act requires that the matters to be taken
into account in making a decision on the classification of a publication

(a) the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted
by reasonable adults; and 

(b) the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the
publication; and 

(c) the general character of the publication, including whether it is of
a medical, legal or scientific character; and 

(d) the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published
or is intended or likely to be published.

The National Classification Code (the Code) requires that Classification
decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to the following

	a) adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;

b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb

c) everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material
that they find offensive; and

	d) the need to take account of community concerns about:

		i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual 	
violence; and 		 

		ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.


Within the Code, paragraph 3 of the Table under the heading
``Publications'' provides that publications (except RC and Category 2
restricted publications) that ``are unsuitable for a minor to see or
read'' should be classified ``Category 1 restricted''. 

In addition, the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications
(September 1999) provide (in relation to the ``Unrestricted'' category),
in part that:

``Generally, descriptions and depictions of classifiable elements in
publications classified `Unrestricted' may contain some detail. 
However, the impact will not be so strong as to require legal

The Guidelines also provide that bona fide artworks which may offend
some sections of the adult community may be classified in the
`Unrestricted' category when set in an historical or cultural context.''

3.	Procedure

Four members of the Review Board examined the publication Pictures and
heard relevant submissions at its meeting on 2 March 2001. 

The Review Board heard oral submissions from Ms Shirley Armstrong,
Solicitor, representing the Applicant and Mr Michael Rakusin,
representing the Distributor. These representatives had been provided
with copies of the Classification Board's report.

4.	Matters taken into account	

In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following:

the application for review, lodged by the South Australian Police;

written and oral submissions from the Applicant;

oral submissions from the Distributor, Tower Books; 

the publication Pictures;

the relevant provisions in the Act;

the relevant provisions in the National Classification Code as amended
in accordance with Section 6 of the Act, and as endorsed by the State
and Territory Ministers responsible for censorship matters; and 

the current Guidelines for the Classification of Publications determined
under Section 12 of the Act.

The Classification Board's report.

Findings on material questions of fact

The Review Board accepted that the South Australian Police had, after
bookshop personnel had drawn their attention to the item, taken the
relevant publication from an Adelaide bookshop (which was sited in a
central Adelaide street, adjacent to a cinema frequented by minors), and
submitted it to the Classification Board.  The Review Board found that:

Pictures contains text and black and white photographs depicting male
nudity and homosexual activity.  Pages are not numbered.

The book contains a number of potentially problematic photographs,
notably depictions of the practice known as ``fisting'', persons
urinating and defecating into other persons' mouths, and genital
mutilation resulting in bleeding. 

The publication did constitute a bona fide artwork. 

The publication was authentically set in a cultural context. 

The publication would be confronting and offensive to some sections of
the adult community but did not warrant having its classification
restricted solely on this basis.

The publication could disturb minors and was therefore unsuitable for
viewing by those under 18 years of age 

The publication should be classified Category 1 Restricted on this

6. 	Reasons for the Decision

The Review Board based its decision to classify the publication Pictures
Category 1 Restricted on the content described in 5.1 to 5.6 above. 

	The applicant argued in part that:  

the artistic merit of the publication is compromised by the offensive
content of a number of the depictions;

certain depictions constitute ``revolting and abhorrent phenomena''
within the meaning of the National Classification Code for Publications

there were very detailed realistic depictions of sexual fetishes in
which physical harm is apparent; and

certain depictions were likely to harm or disturb minors.

The Review Board generally concurred with (a)  -  (d), particularly with

The Distributor argued in part that 

the book contained classical studies, and was confronting, but this was
the nature of great art, even if revulsion and horror are the outcomes

he distributed all copies of the book in sealed plastic wrapping and is
somewhat discerning as to which stores stock the book. However, the book
is stocked in certain outlets of major mainstream bookstores. 

It would not be a matter of great moment if the plastic wrapper were
required to be kept on and a sticker attached. 

The Board acknowledged that the publication is a bona fide artwork. It
contains black and white photographs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe, a
photographer of international standing.  That status may be confirmed by
a search of the Internet revealing a comprehensive list of his works and
exhibitions in leading galleries.

Pictures presents as a serious work, with a foreword analysing his work,
and a comprehensive bibliography. The foreword suggests that Pictures is
intended to confront and shock. 

The Review Board found the publication to be authentically set in a
cultural context, viz. the gay liberation movement of the seventies and


Many of the book's depictions were considered to be confronting or
offensive to some sections of the adult community.  However, the Review
Board also considered this did not, of itself, provide sufficient reason
for imposing a ``restricted'' classification, as the Guidelines make
provision for this in the case of bonafide artworks.

The operative factor which led the Review Board nevertheless to place
the publication in a ``restricted'' category was its opinion that the
book's content does require an adult perspective and that exposure to
many of its images could disturb minors. The impact of the work was
considered to be sufficiently strong  to require legal restriction. The
book is therefore deemed unsuitable for viewing by those under 18 years
of age.

In reaching this conclusion, the Review Board did not have regard to the
gender of the persons depicted, but rather to the fetishistic and
sometimes violent nature of the depictions involving consenting adults, 
and to the pictures of genital mutilation. 

The Review Board acknowledged that the presentation, cost and marketing
of the book suggested that it was not primarily targeted at minors.  The
Review Board did however perceive a very real potential for minors to
access the book in a mainstream bookshop if it was placed in the
``Unrestricted'' category. 

In all the circumstances, the Review Board considered the minimum
requirement to adequately protect minors and to preserve the book's
integrity as a serious work was that it be displayed in a sealed
wrapping with the prescribed marking ``Restricted: not available to
persons under 18years''.  The Review Board noted that its decision
effectively means that the wrapping on the book as distributed should
not be removed prior to the book being sold to a person 18 years or

The Board noted that bona fide artworks are afforded special treatment
under the regulatory regime for the classification of publications.  If
Pictures had not been so regarded, it would almost certainly, considered
at face value, have attracted the next highest classification in
accordance with the relevant legislation and guidelines. 

7. 	Conclusion


The Review Board's decision is to set aside the decision of the
Classification Board to classify the publication Pictures
"Unrestricted", and to assign the classification "Category 1 -

	This decision is taken after full consideration of the Applicant's
submission, and after assessing the publication as a whole against the
relevant legislative criteria, including those contained in the Code,
and in the current Guidelines for the Classification of Publications
determined under Section 12 of the Act.

Barbara Biggins


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