In the same month in which church services took place to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, London department store Selfridges, opened a window display featuring naked male and female figures in animal poses behind bars. Another depicts a female figure in pink bikini with the captions: 'Dress Me Up, Play With Me. Do Strange Things to Me.' The windows are part of a show entitled 'Surrealism at Selfridges' which features work by John Galliano, Viktor & Rolf, Maison Martin Margiela and Moschino and Dadadandy among others, and is intended to echo a new Surrealism exhibition at the V&A. A spokesman for Selfridges confirmed that the displays were in the windows. He said: "We've given our windows to surrealist artists for a season. They have interpreted images in a variety of ways: erotic scenes, death, dreamlike images. You know what artists are like. They have absolutely no intention to offend although of course something like this will arouse controversy." He said no one had complained about the show. Dr Jim Richards, chief executive of the Catholic Children's Society, has expressed concern at the impact some of the images could have on young children. He said: "The Selfridges's window displays have iconic status. For many generations children have been brought to see them by their parents, for enjoyment and often edification. They are thus certainly not for 'adults only'. They are on public display in the busiest shopping street in the country. "It is something of a 'cop out' for the shop to state that the displays are art. All too often this is an easy excuse to avoid criticism and in turn make the critic appear to be anti-art and therefore a bigoted philistine. However the acid test is to ask the Selfridges Management how they would give an explanation to a seven or 11 year old child as to the meaning of "Do strange things to me" or the significance of having a group in odd positions in a cage. This, especially at a time, when we are rightly celebrating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. "Where displays with sexual innuendo aspects of bondage and violence are put in front of children we need to realise that they do not have the emotional maturity to cope. Such displays are entirely outside their own experiences. This can cause confusion, and perhaps, unnecessary and unhelpful uneasiness, or worse. "It also harmfully normalises these images. After all they are shown in Oxford Street, so it may be perceived by a child that such things are all right, and are what people normally do and say. Far from that though, we do damage to children in showing them things with which they cannot cope. We also do damage with what for young people are precocious displays of sexuality and implicit violence." Mrs Margaret Sawyer, a Methodist, has written to the manager of Selfridges asking for the displays to be removed. She writes: "I am writing to express how disturbed I am by the window displays currently running at your Oxford Street store, and in particular the window that has imitation bars with naked mannequins behind it. "We have just witnessed a week of celebrations for the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, when the horrors of enslavement have been shown throughout the media. We are also almost daily reminded of the current slavery of trafficking of women, children and men. To find such a reputable store as Selfridges, depicting human beings as animals at this time is not just insensitive but to my way of thinking completely unacceptable. "In today's society visual images, as I am sure you must be aware, carry enormous influence, especially to young impressionable minds." Mrs Sawyer has asked Selfridges to remove the displays before the Easter school holidays begin. Dr Gemma Simmonds, CJ, Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Spirituality at Heythrop College said: "It is wrong to say that because something is 'artistic' or commercial it is beyond offence. Whatever the intention of the artist is, human beings, their bodies and the realities of the millions of women, men and children who will never hear of Selfridge's, let alone be able to afford its prices, are not for sale in any way. Using them in this way is cynical beyond words and says much about the corruption of human value and the common good in a world where market forces and profit are the only currency. Selfridge's might be reminded that buyers can vote with their wallets."
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