Human Earrings
The Reaction

Following the guilty verdict, the commentator Joan Bakewell wrote in the Sunday Times newspaper:

Gibson’s Human Earrings is repellent, tasteless and silly.

A letter to the editor added:

To use a foetus in this way is to deny the feelings of the many women who have had abortions, miscarriages and stillbirths. If he is so keen to shock, why not use a dried penis?

Mary Kenny wrote in the Sunday Telegraph:

Is the sculpture offensive? Certainly it is distressing. In a way, it is repellent and indeed disrespectful to the dignity of human life. Yet in a brutal, horrid manner, a foetal earring makes a stark statement about our values today, and the way in which everything finally becomes a commodity.

Another letter to the editor read:

Why was the gallery prosecuted and not the educational supply companies which continue to sell human body parts by mail order? What woman did the artist force to have an abortion so he could make his jewellery? Isn’t it worth mentioning that the shops are filled with ivory earrings made from teeth pulled from massacred animals?

As for the trial itself, the South London Press questioned:

Common sense in our culture dictates that suspending a couple of 25-year-old human embryos from a mannequin’s ears as jewellery is offensive. Does it really need months of police investigation and a trial at the Old Bailey to prove the point?

That’s actually a good question, because the trial had cost British taxpayers a lot of money.

So what did they get for their money? Well, as the Sunday Observer newspaper noted:

The crime was to exhibit a work containing earrings fashioned from a pair of freeze-dried foetuses. It is, by all accounts, a pretty tawdry piece, but it has given rise to an alarming legal precedent in that the conviction of the two men represented the first time in British history that an artist was successfully prosecuted under the common law.

Many people in the British art world were disappointed by the guilty verdict because they wanted the arts to be judged differently. They wanted art galleries to be special places where artists were free from the laws that governed others.

Before this trial, the Obscene Publications Act had protected that freedom. But my guilty verdict had just cancelled that act and forced all British artists and art galleries to follow the same rules as everyone else.

And I was okay with that.