Art of Representation or Exploitation?

craigpollard-copyWith each passing day comes a new revelation regarding the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children; from physical to sexual, further exacerbated by networks of paedophiles who share indecent imagery of children globally to fulfill their own perverted fantasies.

Western governments have seemingly made strides in addressing this issue of child protection; from awareness campaigns to specialist law enforcement units and new regulations regarding how adults are allowed to engage or interact with children and the context in which this is allowed. In the UK for instance, parents are not even allowed to take pictures of their own children in nursery or school, because other fully-clothed children are present. So this then begs the question:

How does a world-renowned UK educational institution, the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), allow a photographer to exhibit images of naked African children in the name of ‘art’ in its public space?

This is exactly what happened this week leading to my inbox being flooded with messages by concerned individuals – students, alumni and others of all backgrounds and phenotypes, expressing their disappointment and incredulity at how such a situation could be allowed to happen.

How is it that such inappropriate images of western children, even when found in private collections of individuals is a punishable offence, yet those of African children can be freely displayed in a public space?

Why the discrepancy in approach, is there an inherent suggestion that some lives are more important than others and as such these can be treated with impunity and wanton abandon?

Why should it be acceptable that no one should raise any objections to such an image, is it supported by the myth that it is a ‘true’ reflection of Africa; synonymous with ‘poverty’ and ‘helplessness’ and yet same images of European children would be an instant ‘crime’?

Did this realisation even occur in the mind of the photographer, Craig Pollard? Or did he, in his own rationalisation feel this was an ‘honest reflection’ that deserved to be exhibited? Or was this the image that fit the colonial portrayal of Africans that he went looking for, perhaps it was the Africa programmed in his mind and none other would suffice?

The most important question I feel here is not so much about Crag Pollard’s ‘creative eye’ but moreso, did he get the consent of the children in the images’ parents, and can he provide this document of consent when required to in a court of law in the current climate of post-Savile and Catholic priest child abuse cases?

Reports confirm that when SOAS staff and others politely enquired as to why he chose to use such a distasteful image and to remove it for the offence it was causing, Pollard got defensive, retorting ‘here we go again’ and said to the professor who requested it removed that he did ‘not speak for all of Africa’?

Why such a response, which self-respecting adult now needs to be convinced that in no way, shape or form can images of naked children be considered ‘art’?

He also reportedly stated that he had lived in Africa and these were the images he saw, as if these were the ‘credentials’ that gave free reign to take these images without consent – so far he has shown no evidence of this – and then to freely share them with the general public? This narrative is so symbolic of the West’s contact with Africa and its subsequent exploitation of resources, with impunity without due respect afforded. I had to wonder – where was the diversity in imagery, others that signified Africa’s progress i.e cities and infrastructural development, rather what is offered are the same old stereotypical images harking back to the Imperial and Colonial propaganda machine.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Mr Pollard is racist, but it beggars belief that in this day and age with all the rhetoric of Africa being the beacon of hope for economic development, he would choose to only show images that represent a construct of Africa as seen through disparaging eyes.

This ultimately leads us to ask the question; what subconscious desires led to Mr Pollard thinking it would be just fine to photograph naked children and then be brave enough to want to exhibit them, all ‘without consent’? Are such actions informed by a view of Africans as being these poor, helpless creatures that anyone can have their way with?

There is nothing like bad publicity and we will do well to not give it more attention than its worthy of, but rather address it for the gross violation of human rights that it represents; the exploitation of the vulnerable and the innocent.

What this debacle imparts on us is our collective responsibility for fairness to each other as per the proverbial what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Images of naked children, whether in the name of art or sexual perversion is totally unacceptable whether the children are African/black, brown, white, yellow, or polka-dotted, and especially when there is no parental consent.

We must uphold our responsibility to maintain the dignity and innocence of the future generation always and at all times.


Article by Dalian Adofo



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