“I first saw it in 2003, when I was a pre-teen living in Australia. My friend had a pirated copy of the film and we decided to secretly watch it in her parents’ basement. It was before I was familiar with Larry Clark, but I remember strongly relating to the themes – family dysfunction, teen angst, sexuality. It was the first time cinema made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
Ava Nirui is explaining the first time she saw Clark’s controversial Harmony Korine-scripted cult classic Ken Park. Without giving too much away, the film tells the story of a bunch of teens as they struggle to get to grips with themselves and those around them, their burgeoning sexualities, and the usual family issues that arise during adolescence. Despite the very real issues it touched on, though, the film caused widespread moral outrage and was banned in countries around the world, including Australia, where Nirui grew up (Rotterdam, on the other hand, loved it).
“A few weeks before I saw it, it was prevented from being screened at the Sydney Film Festival, and was banned and refused classification due to its violent and graphic sexual themes, which caused massive outrage in the city and sparked protests and illegal screenings,” says Nirui. “It was the first time cinema made people question the harsh censorship laws in Australia and how they were impacting the distribution and accessibility of art.”
“Each item remembers a controversial scene or moment from the movie: Shawn eating out his girlfriend’s mom, the group orgy during the close of the film, and Ken Park committing suicide during the opening credits. The film is so culturally relevant, it shouldn’t be forgotten” – Ava Nirui
Now, Nirui has teamed up with Clark to create a line of merch in celebration of the movie that didn’t get the recognition it deserved back in 2003. Released today, the collection features a series of hoodies, t-shirts, and posters featuring iconic scenes from the cult classic. “I wanted to create some special pieces remembering this culturally significant art film,” she says. “Each item remembers a controversial scene or moment from the movie: Shawn eating out his girlfriend’s mom, the group orgy during the close of the film, and Ken Park (aka Krap Nek) committing suicide during the opening credits. The film is so culturally relevant, it shouldn’t be forgotten.”
At a time when censorship is being enforced across all areas of our lives – from Facebook’s increasingly bizarre posting guidelines, which see classical artworks removed from the site due to their ‘explicitly sexual’ nature, to the EU’s proposed ‘meme ban’ (pls no) – the collection’s release feels all the more relevant, and, though 16 years have passed since Ken Park debuted, Nirui explains she feels like nothing has changed. “Censorship is as real now as it was back then. Social media forces us to censor our bodies, our art, and our lives, which massively impacts the way we express ourselves. I have no doubt that if this movie was released now, it would be met with the same criticism, but I think it’s beautiful. It’s so important to recognise the difference between art and photography.”
The collection available to buy from IDEA, and you can watch the full trailer below.