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Art exhibit sparks controversy with violent staged images of children

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Children used to depict 9/11, Abu Ghraib
  • Exhibit "In the Playroom" depicts young children re-enacting violent events
  • Photographer Jonathan Hobin says it reflects on modern events that affect children
  • He says the exhibit is supposed to prompt dialogue about "issues in our world"
  • The photos have drawn criticism from those who say it crosses an ethical line

(CNN) -- A controversial photography exhibit called "In the Playroom" depicts young children reenacting tragic and violent historical events, including the September 11 attacks and the abuse of inmates at Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

The artist, Jonathan Hobin, says his work is an attempt to reflect on modern events that affect children and prompt dialogue about "issues in our world."

But the photos have also drawn criticism from those who say Hobin's use of artistic license involving children crosses an ethical boundary.

"Some of it is appropriate," said psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint. "But I don't know that it's appropriate to put a scarf around a girl's neck like she's going to be strangled with out really understanding what that's about."

Poussaint was referring to one of Hobin's photographs in which a young girl is depicted as slain 6-year-old JonBenet

Ramsey, who was found dead in the basement of her Colorado home in 1996 after being strangled.

The image portrays the girl dressed in beauty pageant attire while holding a mauve-colored scarf around her neck.

Poussaint said he commended the photographs for their portrayal of events that affect children, but cautioned that the children likely "didn't understand what they were doing."

He also warned against placing young children in situations that could potentially traumatize or frighten them, cautioning that the effects of traumatic events commonly surface later in life.

But Hobin defended his work, arguing that "media is so pervasive its almost inescapable" and the exhibit

endeavored to show how these events are "part of our culture."

"We have to acknowledge it," he said.

Others aren't so sure.

One photograph, called "The Twins," shows two young boys staring directly into the camera in a playroom designed to look like a scene from the September 11 attacks at the World Trade Center in New York.

In the scene, a boy is shown holding a toy plane, while the other child holds a toy fire engine crane in front of a building made to look like its ablaze.

Another image shows a hooded child on box with phony electrodes attached to his fingers in a scene that portrays an Abu Ghraib prisoner.

Next to him shows a near naked boy, handcuffed beside a stuffed animal of a dog.

Hobin's exhibit was first unveiled in September at a gallery in Ottawa, Canada, and was shot with the approval of the children's parents, he said.

CNN spoke with one parent who said she allowed her child to be photographed, but could not immediately reach the parents of the other children.