The Royal Academy of Arts has apologized to an artist whose work was removed from its gift shop after calling his views transphobic on social media, calling his initial move a “betrayal” of his commitment to the freedom of expression.
Jess de Wahls, a London-based embroidery artist, became the focal point of the row after the Royal Academy decided to no longer store her work after a 2019 blog post – in which she set out her perspective on the politics of gender identity – was found to be transphobic.
In a statement, the Royal Academy said it had mismanaged the situation and its internal communications had failed, leading De Wahls to hear about the work via social media.
The statement said, “One thing is clear to us now – we should have handled this better. We have apologized to Jess de Wahls for the way we treated her and are doing it publicly again now. We were not allowed to judge his opinions on our social networks. It betrayed our most important core value – the protection of freedom of expression.
“Plurality of voices, tolerance and free thought are at the heart of what we defend and seek to protect. These events raise fundamental questions. Freedom of speech can open debate, create empathy or respect for difference, it can also sometimes cause injury and outrage. It has confirmed to us our commitment to freedom of expression and to solving complex problems through engagement and debate.
The Royal Academy said it would review its internal processes to “navigate better in the future”.
De Wahls told The Guardian his work will now be relisted. She welcomed the apology and hoped it would set a precedent for other institutions to consider freedom of expression before acting.
“I think it’s important for an institution like this to stay out of these things,” she said. “I hope all other institutions watch and learn a lesson. Hope this brings him back to a place where disagreement can arise without assuming hatred. “
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden welcomed the apology. “Freedom of expression is at the heart of great art and culture and must always be protected,” he said.
De Wahls’ comments from 2019 are what led to accusations of transphobia, which the artist has denied. In the blog post on her website, she wrote: “I have no problem with someone who feels more comfortable expressing themselves as if they are the opposite sex (or however they like).
“However, I cannot accept the unsubstantiated claims of people that they are in fact of the opposite sex when they were born and deserve to be granted the same rights as if they were born as such. “
When the message was reported, De Wahls’ embroidery work was removed from the Royal Academy gift shop, with the artist claiming that she was contacted by officials from the organization who told her they were investigating.
The Royal Academy had posted an Instagram post saying, “Thank you to everyone for bringing an item into the RA Shop by an artist expressing transphobic views to our attention. “
Responding to De Wahls’ comments, LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell told The Guardian this week: “Trans women are different from other women, but being a different type of woman is perfectly valid and does not justify denying them. identity.
“If an artist were to deny the identity of Jews, blacks or gays, most people would say that the Royal Academy would be right to remove their work from the gift shop. But when Jess denies who trans people are, she and other trans critics say it’s her right to free speech and that she shouldn’t be penalized. It smacks of double standard. “