Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Art gallery removes nude photo after artist's daughter complains

An art gallery has removed a photograph from an upcoming auction following a complaint by the subject. File photo / 123RF
An art gallery has removed a photograph from an upcoming auction following a complaint by the subject. File photo / 123RF

An art gallery has removed a photograph from an upcoming auction following a complaint by the subject - a child sex abuse victim who says the image taken by her mother is "totally unacceptable".

The photograph was taken when the victim was 12 years old and shows her completely naked, from the back.

It was shot by her mother, a New Zealand artist.

For legal reasons the Herald cannot identify the artist, her daughter or the photograph.

The victim, now an adult, said the image is one of many naked photographs of her - taken at a time when she was being sexually abused by two men known to her mother.

She told the Herald that her mother never asked permission to use the images in any exhibitions or art auctions and she wanted them all destroyed completely.

"I have made it clear to my mother for many years that I wanted the return or destruction of any underage naked photos of me," she said.

"It is totally unacceptable that (this) photograph could outlive me and I will do what I can to prevent this."

The image was due to be auctioned alongside other art work by a New Zealand gallery this month.

However after the victim and the Herald contacted the owners about the image and the concerns around it, they withdrew the work.

"We have decided to suspend (the photograph) from inclusion in (the) auction after being contacted, over the weekend, by one of the subjects pictured," they said in a statement.

"(The image) has been previously exhibited in other galleries and is illustrated in several book... While we do not believe the photograph to be offensive in and of itself, we found the nature of the information in the subject's email concerning.

"Due to the potentially sensitive legal nature of this information, we cannot comment further but have decided that it would not be appropriate to sell the photograph at this time."

The victim said she was "very pleased" with the result but would not be completely happy until all photographs of her were removed from the public domain.

The victim's mother did not respond to the Herald and the gallery that represents her said she was overseas.

The image, and others of the victim, have been shown at various exhibitions around New Zealand and are held in collections at a number of galleries.

"I plan to take legal action to protect my privacy and campaign for the rights of victims and ensure that artists cannot exploit their own children," the victim said.

I have made it clear to my mother for many years that I wanted the return or destruction of any under-age naked photos of me.
Subject of withdrawn photograph

The Herald contacted two other prominent New Zealand galleries that hold copies of photographs depicting the victim asking if they would consider removing the work.

"When we acquire and display art works, we do so on the basis of their artistic qualities," a spokesperson for one of the galleries said.

"Nude images of people, including children, are not by definition inappropriate.

"We do think carefully before we exhibit nude photographs, and in general they are not available in our online collections. This is a matter between the artist and her daughter."

The second gallery would not comment.

Two men were charged with raping the victim when she was 12.

One of them died before the matter could go to trial.

The other pleaded guilty to two charges of indecent assault after two counts of rape were dismissed.

He was sentenced in late 2011.

Suppression orders prevent the Herald from publishing the names of the men.

The victim said the sexual abuse started when she was 12 - about the same time as her mother started to photograph her naked.

When she was younger she was photographed naked by another artist.

"My mother and I went on many expeditions to take naked photos of me," the victim said.

"I was 'told' this is what we were going to do rather than asked. I did not object as I wanted to help my mother with her art."

She said she felt "confused and frightened" posing naked, sometimes in public places.

"It was an intimidating distressing experience. my mother explained to me that we were doing something 'feminist'," she said.

She recalled the photos of her being exhibited by her mother when she was a young teenager and said it made her very uncomfortable.

The abuse, she said, was ongoing at the time.

"I was never asked if she could use the photos- it was simply her right," the victim said.

"She was my mother, she was an artist, I never questioned it."

Years later she was informed that one of the images had been published in a book.

"I was shocked when I saw the publication as she had not informed me and I felt exposed, embarrassed and humiliated having such personal images available to the public," she said.

When she saw the image on this month's auction list, she was mortified.

"My reaction when I saw that it was on public display was utter shock, complete feeling of betrayal, embarrassed, vulnerable, angry and violated," she said.

"I had asked her to destroy the photos or return them to me on so many occasions."

She said her mother rejected the notion that the photos were inappropriate and refused to take them out of circulation.

So, she decided to speak out and contacted the Herald, the galleries and the police who investigated her sex abuse case.

She wants to see more regulation in the art community around the depiction of children.

"Children cannot give consent to photography and giving cart blanche to the parents is not providing enough protection when a parent may be self-serving," she said.

"Why have I decided to speak out about this? Because I want it to stop. Going forward, I want all images of me removed from circulation, returned to me, then I can throw them into the sea."

- NZ Herald

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