Casula Powerhouse Art Gallery bans Pole Dancer from Women in Sport Exhibition

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by anonymous on Thursday 17 January 2013.

Casula Powerhouse Art Gallery bans Pole Dancer from Women in Sport Exhibition image

Photographer Belinda Mason’s portrait of Australian award-winning pole dancer and political candidate Zahra Stardust has been refused for a portrait series of Women in Sport.

The Casula Powerhouse, who commissioned Mason in 2011 for the Onside Exhibition and who received the images electronically early in 2012, emailed Mason a month before the exhibition launch to say the work was too provocative.

The image – titled The Candidate – features a multi-dimensional image of Stardust with her pole in front of mirrors upon which she has written in hot pink lipstick words such as ‘solidarity’, ‘feminism’, ‘friendship’ ‘mentoring’ ‘musicality’ ‘activism’ ‘lactic acid’ ‘muscles’ ‘carpet burn’ ‘creativity’ and ‘diversity’.

The exhibition sought photographs blending art and sport and intended to ‘examine the complex issues relating to women and sport through an arts and cultural lens’, including ‘media representation, sexploitation and fair pay’.

In rejecting the portrait, Curator Toni Bailey told Mason there were ‘too many issues for us – being a council-funded public gallery. 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.’

Stardust, who has run for House of Representatives, Senate and Lord Mayor of Sydney for the Australian Sex Party, says that pole dancing involves elements of gymnastics, ballet and yoga. She says to exclude pole dancing ‘perpetuates hierarchies of what constitutes a ‘proper’ sport, traditionally a male dominated arena’.

‘Anyone who has observed pole dancing will have seen – regardless of whether the performer is wearing gym attire or six inch stilettos – the immense flexibility, agility and muscle power necessary to execute drops, dead lifts, to hold ones’ entire body weight out like a flag.’

Stardust – who left law for pole dancing – says that the sport has ‘critically informed’ her feminist politics and that ‘the core strength necessary for pole dancing actively resists stereotypes of feminine passivity’. She maintains that as a pole instructor, she has ‘a unique opportunity to promote body positivity and self esteem among women, of all shapes and sizes.’ She said the words in the image reduce its ability to be taken out of context or misread.

The image was intended to be included alongside 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.

Mason says ‘I selected these women as they each create social and cultural debate. They represent the diversity of experiences of sport across cultural boundaries, generations, disciplines and societal expectations. Each of these women has broken unwritten rules to play their sport and follow a passion that has broadened their lives outside of sport.’

Fellow lawyer and feminist pole dancer Michelle Shimmy, co-owner of the Pole Dance Academy, said ‘The issue is what we consider to be ‘legitimate’ forms of expression for women. Had the photographer used a photo of a pole dancer in a t-shirt and shorts, barefoot or in trainers, there would be no controversy. Instead, she chose the fabulously unapologetic Zahra Stardust. The photograph celebrates every aspect of pole dance that ‘good girls’ are not supposed to be – semi-nudity, breasts, PVC, bleached blonde hair, stripper shoes, and perhaps worst of all – pride and enjoyment in what she does. If any pole dancer chooses to exercise or work in PVC rather than Lulemon or Lorna Jane, that hardly changes or diminishes the activity itself.’

‘The decision to exclude the photograph is extremely disappointing and a sad reflection of prejudice, narrow-mindedness and stigma surrounding our industry, and a systemic unwillingness to promote positive active voices from within our community’, says Stardust.

Stardust says Australia is a world leader in pole dancing and it is disheartening that our own artists are not supported by Australian galleries such as the Casula Powerhouse.
The Onside Exhibition will launch on 8 February 2013.

Belinda Mason’s previous exhibitions can be seen at

More information on Zahra Stardust can be found at

More information on the Australian Sex Party can be found at

Media inquiries:

Belinda Mason on Artabase
Zahra Stardust on Artabase