Hunter student's asked to 'censor' her Higher School Certificate artwork depicting nudity

Limited: Tyler Farnham said she "expected to use the major work to be able to express myself however I wanted to, but now I’m being limited on what I can do". “We’re being controlled, even though it’s the year when we’re not supposed to be at all.” Picture: Simone De Peak
Limited: Tyler Farnham said she "expected to use the major work to be able to express myself however I wanted to, but now I’m being limited on what I can do". “We’re being controlled, even though it’s the year when we’re not supposed to be at all.” Picture: Simone De Peak

WHAT started as Tyler Farnham’s intention to promote positive body image has led to requests to refrain from bringing portraits taken on the school camera into class and to “censor” her work.

Tyler, 17, said she spoke to her Visual Arts teacher last year about photographing herself and three female friends nude from the waist up for sketches for her HSC major work. The four have adopted a confident stance, showing they are “content with who they are”.

“It was inspired by David Bromley’s work and style, who my teacher introduced me to,” she said. “Nudity is such a taboo subject and sometimes it’s like we can’t be nude without being sexualised or objectified, even though it’s our most natural state of being. I wanted to show the diversity of women’s bodies and how everybody is different, but that does not make you any less beautiful, less entitled to anything or feel less confident.

“I also want to connect it to what we go through with social media – we see images of the perfect bodies we wish we had, instead of appreciating our differences and loving what we do have.”

The Kotara High student said she was “given the OK” to proceed with the project and used the school camera last weekend. She arrived at school on Tuesday intending to print the portraits.

 “My teacher said she did not find it appropriate and allowing me to print them was a risk for her. I told her I could print them at home, but then I was told I was not to bring them in to school. I had to do a sketch version and then bring that in and work on it at school.

“My teacher said she did not realise it would have the whole breast and if I ‘censored’ my work – like have an arm over the breast – it wouldn’t be as hard to do.

“But that’s not how I want to do it at all – by censoring it, it takes away from the whole purpose of my work.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the school had not received any complaints about the project, but it was “not appropriate for the school to have semi-naked photographs of minors on school grounds”. The spokesperson referred to the NSW Education Standards Authority guidelines, which say that “while it is understood some performances and submitted works challenge established views, principals should ensure that work submitted for the examination does not cause offence”.

“Teachers must advise the principal of the nature and content of HSC works from an early stage, so that the student’s work may develop in a manner which takes into account the general community,” the guidelines said. “Markers should not be confronted by works and performances that the general adult community would find offensive. Principals must ensure that any works presented for public display are appropriate to the understanding and expectations of the intended audience and their cultural sensitivity.”

Tyler said a male student at her school made portraits last year of the male torso, with detailed images of muscles. “You could see the chest and his nipples – why am I not allowed to do the same, considering mine is just a simple outline?” she asked.

Tyler said she had hoped to print the portraits at school so they were in A2, the size of her intended sketches.

She wanted to use the school’s lightbox to transform the photos into sketches and said she could have sketched all four in about 20 minutes.

“I didn’t need detailed realistic features of the figure, just an outline of the face and body to turn into a screen print –  then the photos can be chucked out,” she said.

“I said I was happy to come in during free periods or lunch where no-one else could see anything and do the sketches. I wanted to be wise with my time at school rather than sitting in class not able to work on it.”

Tyler said printing the portraits at home meant she could only print in A4, and sketching the images without the lightbox and to a different size would take at least four hours, precious time in between her part-time job and work for other subjects.

The spokesperson said there was “no need for the student to be idle during art lessons given the number and variety of tasks required to complete the course”. “The school is currently discussing with the student exactly what the subject matter will be, and those decisions will inform how and where the work can be done.”

Tyler is refusing to let the controversy hold her back. “It makes me want to do this even more –  it’s the core of my concept, that the body should be celebrated for what it is and not assumed to be something sexual.”