Letters: Hirst photo betrays the dead

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 13 July, 2013


Most readers are probably unaware that a photograph in the Walsall New Art Gallery’s current exhibition “Epstein and Hirst: birth, death and religion” shows a grinning young Damien Hirst standing in a laboratory with his arm around the severed head of an identifiable individual. 

Although we have written twice to the gallery, we have not yet received any response. This photograph was taken in 1981, presumably without the consent of the subject himself, the laboratory or the man’s family. Taking such a picture breaches all professional standards of those who regularly deal with the bodies of the dead.

As archaeologists we are accustomed to considering a responsibility towards the dead as well as one towards the sensibilities of the living, as are the pathologists whose trust was abused in the taking of this photograph. These days students of any discipline whose work brings them into contact with dead bodies are asked to reflect about what constitutes ethical treatment of the dead.

We are well aware that Hirst’s art is intended to challenge and outrage and that it frequently deals with the bodies of the dead, but find this image to be exploitative and insensitive. The photo is an abuse of power by the artist.

In this case a person who had made a decision in good faith to give his body to medical science – a philanthropic act – has been betrayed by a young student for egocentric reasons. Such a photo has a place in Hirst’s archive, but giving it wall space without including in the commentary any acknowledgement of the ethical issues suggests that the gallery finds nothing objectionable in such a “joke”.

Matthew Beamish, Project Officer,  University of Leicester Archaeological Services

Sarah Tarlow, Professor of Archaeology, University of Leicester

Shard climb: silly stunt or brave protest?

Presumably Greenpeace is happy for anybody who disagrees with it to break the law, waste police time at taxpayers’ expense and disrupt ordinary people’s lives to make an ideological point.

While the rest of the population follows due process and engages in peaceful demonstrations to voice their grievances, Greenpeace’s self-righteous activists think they are entitled to special treatment. As Shell indicated, we all “respect the right of individuals and organisations to engage in a free and frank exchange of views”; but Greenpeace’s irresponsible publicity stunt has only succeeded in weakening their reputation as a serious organisation while doing a disservice to their cause.

Ironically, the misguided Shard climb has highlighted a security gap at the new London Bridge Quarter, home to the type of corporate interests to which Greenpeace seems to object.

Dr Christina Julios, London SE1

No, it is not a plane and no, it is not a reckless publicity stunt as your front page suggests (“Is it a plane? Is it a reckless publicity stunt?”, 12 July). It is the action of six very courageous women protesting against the despoiling of our beautiful planet by the forces of reckless greed.

Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex

Peg MPs’ pay to Civil Service

Those of us with long memories can recall when the salary of an MP was linked to the Principal/Grade 7 pay grade in the Civil Service. This was then deemed inadequate and a large pay rise agreed, supposedly to reduce the need for them to take on other work. Now a similar rise is being suggested again, although there seems to be no shortage of applicants for the role.

It is also surprising that MPs are not subject to the performance pay system that they have foisted on the rest of the public service, under which only the top 25 per cent get a significant pay rise and the bottom are put on an improvement programme with a view to dismissal.

Dr N J T Long, Bristol

Wimbledon shoppers

I was disappointed to read Simon Read’s article about his shopping experience at one of our stores (“Why I won’t be hurrying back to Sainsbury’s”, 6 July). Our colleagues work really hard to make shopping in our stores as pleasant and hassle-free as possible, and I’m glad to say that customer feedback suggests that they achieve this.

Wimbledon fortnight was phenomenal. The sun shone, Andy Murray was playing brilliantly and, in the store your correspondent complained about, we served over 50,000 customers – almost double the usual number. Tennis fans queued with our local customers and everyone was very good-humoured, but with so many people wanting to be served quickly we had to put extra queuing controls in place to keep things flowing. I’m sorry that Mr Read felt he experienced poor service as a result – that is not acceptable and was certainly not our intention. 

Let me also reassure him that we don’t “hike prices” around Wimbledon during the fortnight to “fleece” our customers. Our national pricing policy means prices in our convenience stores are the same in Wimbledon, Wigan or Watford.

Simon Twigger, Director of Convenience, Sainsbury’s, London EC1

Sex, power and the naked body

In response to Patrick Cleary (letter, 6 July). Yes, I daresay the average male would not care one jot about seeing such a marvellous display of rampant masculinity, when we consider the fact that women are naked on the covers of magazines to pleasure men, while men are naked on the covers of magazines to inspire other men.

The sad truth is, in our society the naked male body is seen as a symbol of strength, power and confidence, while the naked female form has been reduced to merely a symbol of sex and reproduction.

In response to R S Foster (letter, 6 July), if the average British female were to follow the example of her male counterpart, as you suggested, and go topless in public, I am afraid the poor woman would very likely end up facing accusations of indecency from the more narrow-minded onlooker, and unwanted advances from dozens of men who unfortunately see the exposed female body as an invitation for sex. In this country you can publicly sell breasts (as in lads’ mags) but cannot publicly wear breasts.

Also, please could you recommend which parks, pools and beaches to visit to see a “buff male torso or a well-toned gluteus maximus”? In my experience, these sights are virtually non-existent among the British male population.

Leigh-Ann Turnbull, South Shields, Tyne and Wear

Brief mention of women’s football

I am writing to express my dismay at your coverage of the England women’s football team in this year’s Euro 2013. Looking through the sports section this morning (12 July) I was expecting to see a full page article discussing the team and their plans for their game against Spain. Instead I found only 58 words under the heading “Football in Brief” while you dedicate two and a half pages to men’s football, with no games played as the season hasn’t even started!

If The Independent is to be taken seriously as a truly independent voice, then you should consider how sexist your sports reporting is and perhaps even consider becoming pioneers in the reporting of women’s sport in general.

Airavata Carroll, Ipswich

How to boost British tennis

Richard Walker asks: “How can we  make a British win at Wimbledon a more frequent occurrence?” (Letters, 9 July).  For a start we could ensure that every British primary school has fully equipped indoor and outdoor sporting facilities, including at least one tennis court, manned by qualified sports staff. Perhaps the Lawn Tennis Association would contribute. This could be an excellent project for Michael Gove.

These facilities should, of course, be made available to the local community during holiday time and at weekends.

Auriol Earle, Guildford

In all the justifiable celebration of Andy Murray’s great win at Wimbledon, let’s not forget to give praise to the art of tennis itself and, in particular, this current generation of male players. The era which has produced the massive talent of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray is a golden age – and it’s happening now. Let’s celebrate that.

Alan Maughan, Chester-le-Street, Co Durham

Unexpected inspections

As a former HMI, I have some sympathy for the points made by Chris Blackhurst (“An inspector calls”, 11 July), but there would need to be another major change in school inspection practice were no-notice inspections to be introduced, as he suggests.

Inspectors themselves should not be given advance notice of the schools they are to inspect, so that their judgements are not pre-empted by prior-disclosed performance data, and so that their inspection can be properly focused on what really matters – the quality of what they actually observe in classrooms.

Professor Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Good sense about children

What a lot of sense Rosie Millard talks. Her articles of last week and this (10 July) about the benefits of walking and talking her way to school with her children, and the absolute must of a bedtime regime, are superb.

As a teacher of young children, who are increasingly difficult to handle and whose learning is severely hampered, I fully endorse what she says. She talks more sense about parenting and education than many MPs concerned with education at the moment. I propose her for a position as a parenting tsar.

Anne Stoneman, Downham Market, Norfolk

Out of wedlock

The Office for National Statistics says the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers hit 47.5 per cent last year. The figure has risen from 25 per cent in 1988 and 11 per cent in 1979. If the trend continues, by 2016 the majority of children will be born to parents who are not married. I’m counting the hours until some self-appointed moralist blames this on the proposal to introduce gay marriage.

Stephen Wyatt, London SE17

Vanished life

It’s not just roadkill (“Roadkill nation”, 10 July). I come over to England most Junes for my mother’s birthday, but am spending a further enforced week of convalescence in Dorset. No rooks, no magpies, no rabbits, no hares. Few butterflies, wood pigeons, blackbirds, starlings. Where are the pheasants and deer? Something has changed. Has a new insecticide been authorised?

David Woolley, Los Angeles

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