editorial | Jeff Sparrow

spring 2008
ISBN 978-0-9775171-9-0
published 31 August 2008
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We put Overland 192 together at a time when another magazine, Art Monthly, was facing down the professional moralists over its cover image featuring a naked six-year-old girl.

Had we not been so enamoured of Van Rudd’s painting Australia-Australia-Australia, we might, as a small gesture of solidarity, have chosen to decorate Overland with a reproduction of Pietro Perugino’s renaissance masterwork Madonna and Child (c.1500). That particular canvas features Mary holding up her unclothed baby and pointing directly and unmistakeably at His little penis, a representation that, in the twenty-first century, would have exposed a contemporary Perugino to the full wrath of the shock-jocks and demagogues who attacked Bill Henson.

In the sixteenth century, even divine infants were sexual creatures. Today, children have become compulsorily innocent – and any art that reveals their bodies invites accusations of child pornography. We might note what Mischa Merz says in her account of women’s boxing in New York: ‘an idea that seems immutable and true in one era can sound laughable to the next generation’. The current obsession with hunting for child abusers in art galleries (as opposed to, say, the respectable nuclear families within which most paedophilia actually manifests) will seem, one imagines, absurd to the people of the not too distant future.

In the meantime, if anything positive can be taken from the Bill Henson affair, it is, perhaps, the reaffirmation that art continues to matter, that it still provides a key locus for social conflict.

In different ways, the pieces collected in Overland 192 make the same claim. From Hugo Race’s celebration of music’s cross-cultural pleasures to Catherine Ryan’s invocation of writing in the face of personal despair, from Andrew McCann’s examination of the Red Army Faction in literature to Michael Ackland’s argument about Christina Stead’s political commitment, the contributors, in their own fashion, explore the intersections of culture and society.

Some also hint at a different point, one that did not emerge clearly enough in defences of Henson’s photography. Put simply, culture does not exist in a vacuum and the freedoms to which artists are entitled should not be counterposed to those due to everyone else. The moral panics in which galleries are raided create a repressive atmosphere for society as a whole, not just for its photographers. That’s why, despite the Right’s reflexive accusations of elitism, standing against the censors constitutes a profoundly democratic act.

Overland is delighted to announce that Professor Barry Jones has accepted the position of patron of the journal. Barry Jones, a long-time associate and friend of Overland, has had a distinguished career as politician, writer and general disturber of the public conscience. He has been a Professorial Fellow at Victoria University, and is at present a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Education at Melbourne University. He was Minister for Science and Technology in the Hawke Labor government, and in 1992 he was elected National President of the ALP. He has been involved with a vast number of public bodies, including the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Committee, the National Library of Australia, UNESCO, Amnesty International and the Australian Film Corporation. He is the recipient of many public honours, including appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia. He is a polymath, and well-known to the public as an Australian and international quiz champion.

As patron, he will have no executive responsibility, but will serve as a guarantor of the magazine’s integrity and autonomy. He will be able to represent the magazine publicly, will have full access to its business and editorial matters, and will be available to consult and advise its editors. The editors will remain responsible to the Board, and the new position represents no curbing of their independence. Rather, it strengthens the magazine’s continuing commitment to its democratic ideals.

© Jeff Sparrow
Overland 192 – spring 2008

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