ZAHRA STARDUST says her sport empowers women. Casula Powerhouse sees it differently, and has banned a photograph of the pole dancer from a coming exhibition on women in sport.
The Liverpool arts centre and gallery commissioned Sydney photographer Belinda Mason to take pictures of women in sport for its exhibition Onside, which opens in February, but banned the multi-image piece, which depicts Stardust posing in her pole dancing outfit.
Curator Toni Bailey wrote to Mason that there were ''too many issues for us - being a council-funded public gallery''.
Casula has stated the exhibition is intended to ''examine the complex issues relating to women and sport through an arts and cultural lens'' including ''media representation, sexploitation and fair pay''.
But Bailey, in rejecting the photograph, entitled The Candidate, said in an email: ''We can appreciate that the intention of the photograph is to suggest that the subject is empowered however we are convinced that not everyone will read it in this way.
''Of course as an art centre we don't want to censor artist's expression but the issue is more complex because we have commissioned the work.
''It is a very provocative image, which is your intention I know, and we have given it much thought however we can't include it I'm afraid.''
The feminist Eva Cox said: ''I don't know if it's empowering but it's an interesting set of images. I can't see how it would be disempowering for women, if you want to look at it that way. I think people are being a bit squeamish. Sometimes people are over-anxious about these things. I wouldn't mind having it as a poster.''
Mason submitted eight photographs for the exhibition, most of which will be displayed, including images of gridiron player Brooklyn Jackson, centenarian athlete Ruth Frith, hijab-wearing AFL player Lael Kassem, indigenous longboard surfing champion Melissa Combo, and short-statured basketball player Brittany Mamula.
Stardust, a law graduate and human rights advocate, said the decision to exclude the photograph was ''extremely disappointing and a sad reflection of prejudice, narrow-mindedness and stigma''.
Stardust said to exclude pole dancing ''perpetuates hierarchies of what constitutes a 'proper' sport, traditionally a male dominated arena … the core strength necessary for pole dancing actively resists stereotypes of feminine passivity''.
Casula's director, Kiersten Fishburn, told Fairfax Media the gallery ''only has a limited amount of room'' and ''so we selected the ones we thought were most appropriate for our audience''. Fishburn said only five images had been contracted from Mason. But it is believed Mason's contract was to supply eight images.
''I don't think it [the pole dancer image] was inappropriate but we do have a very mixed audience that includes a lot of schoolchildren.'' The Liverpool area, she said, is a ''relatively conservative community''.
While the gallery had exhibited other works containing nudity, the image of Stardust was ''not one of the most compelling images'', Fishburn said.