Queer artist says Australia Council has misrepresented her work

Queer artist Casey Jenkins has found funding from the Australia Council for artwork Immaculate has been rescinded. The funding has been pulled after her work was heavily criticised on Sky News, but the Australia Council says negative media was not the reason they backed out.

The Melbourne artist was documenting her attempts to become pregnant via self-insemination with a sperm donor. Jenkins previous work has focused on documentation of personal experiences and journeys.

In early August the Australia Council informed Jenkins that she had been awarded a $6,000 grant towards the project, and while the council was fully aware of what the work involved, a week later they wrote to her highlighting a segment on Sky News where Peta Credlin was critical of the decision to fund the project. A month later the funding was cancelled with the Australia Council saying that it had reconsidered and was no longer able to provide funding.

Australia Council chief executive Arian Collette wrote to Jenkins and said, “we cannot be party to any act that could result in bringing a new life into the world” and that “the ethical issues that will inevitably surround this project, possibly for years to come, are not something the council can take responsibility for”.

The Australia Council said that after consulting lawyers it felt the project would expose the funding body to “unacceptable, potentially long-term and incalculable risk”.

Jenkins has responded to the decision on her website saying the council should realise that the way queer people create families is not something that should be causing alarm, and accused the Australia Council of grossly mischaracterising her work.

“Queer and single parents are heavily stigmatised and feared by some small but powerful sectors of our community. The fact that the simple, common and loving ways that we live our lives and create and nurture our families cause alarm in those sectors does not equate to there being anything in any way unethical or risky in our actions.” Jenkins said.

“Australia Council have grossly and insultingly mischaracterised my artwork as an “act that could result in bringing a new life into the world”.  As I have repeatedly articulated to Australia Council and as they are well aware I am not trying to conceive as an artwork. I have been trying to conceive for some time and in my artwork IMMACULATE I am simply documenting and presenting the perfectly common, legal and ethical process of self-insemination.”

The artist highlighted that none of the funding grant was going toward medical expenses, simply the process of documenting the process of trying to conceive.

Jenkins says statements made the Australia Council, who claim that her work has changed since the initial application, are misleading, as she had been in regular communication with their staff about the development of the work.

“Nothing I have done, in the content of my work or my actions, has strayed from what was clearly outlined to Australia Council management before they approved my grant variation.” Jenkins said.

Jenkins says she imputation from Australia Council that her work may involve something illegal has been distressing, but she’s also concerned abut what the decision means for future funding approvals from the arts body.

“My artwork presents content which is at once profound and mundane – that it has aroused discussion and confronted and moved people is an indication that it is an effective artwork. I am troubled by the prospect of a future in which the only art supported in this country is that devoid of these results.” Jenkins said.

The Australia Council has told The Sydney Morning Herald that negative media commentary played no part in its decision to cancel the funding for the project.

On her 18th August program Peta Credlin discussed the grants approved by the Australia Council with Dr Bella D’Abera from rightwing thinktank The Institute of Public Affairs.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the sheer abuse of taxpayer grants.” Credlin said of Jenkin’s project, adding that people should question funding arts projects while the government is facing rapidly rising debt.

The Institute of Public Affairs said they believed many of the projects funded by the Australia Council were of no benefit to the Australian public and it was “outrageous” that Jenkins projected had been funded.

“I’ve had a look at the most recent announcement of proposals that have been funded by the government, $90million worth, and there are a number of those proposals that really beggar belief, and I really can’t see how they would benefit Australian’s in any way whatsoever.” Dr D’Abera said.

Speaking specifically of Jenkins work Dr D’Abera said it “was staggering that the Australian public are having to pay for this sort of thing.” and” for work that would be incredibly offensive to Catholic Australians”.

“She’s called this work Immaculate which is incredibly offensive to Catholics, many of whom are paying for it through their taxes.” Dr D’Abera said. “So we’re essentially paying to be insulted by this kind of crazy project.”

Later in the program Credlin discussed the funding with commentator Prue McSween who said Jenkins was a “stupid woman who has a pre-occupation with her womb” and it was obscene that she was receiving government funding. McSween said everybody should band together and buy Jenkins a “turkey baster” so she could conceive in private.

“As if anyone is interested in this woman, who clearly has a problem.” McSween said. Referencing one of Jenkins earlier works McSween said Jenkins was someone who “needed help” rather than tax payer funding.

The Australian Council has confirmed it sent copies of the segment to Arts Minister Paul Fletcher and the artists involved but says the criticism had no effect on the decision to cancel the funding.

“The Australia Council has received some feedback from members of the public following media coverage of the project. This was not a factor in the decision which relates to potential legal risk.” the funding body said in a statement.

“The Minister has not directed the Australia Council on this matter, nor was media coverage a factor in the decision.

“Council staff do routinely alert artists to negative media coverage relating to their projects in order that the artist may take the necessary precautions regarding their online presence to minimise the harm they may experience from trolling and other negative behaviour.” the Australia Council said.

The council said the decision not to fund the project was due to a combination of it moving too far from its original application, and an assessment of it’s legal risks, and their decision was not a reflection on the artistic quality of Jenkin’s work, or their commitment to fund innovative projects in the future.

OIP Staff

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