The Royal Academy of Arts has issued an apology after an artist’s work was removed from its gift shop over comments she previously made about sex and gender.
Textile artist Jess De Wahls, who is originally from Berlin, creates intricate embroideries that tackle subjects as wide ranging as feminism, misogyny and fetishism.
Her embroidery work was removed from the Royal Academy (RA) gift shop following accusations of transphobia, which De Wahls denied.
In a blog post on her website written in 2019 and headlined "Somewhere over the rainbow, something went terribly wrong…", De Wahls wrote how she wanted to “articulate my personal beliefs, so that I can defend and advocate for them”.
In comments that critics claimed were examples of transphobia, she added: “I have no issue with somebody who feels more comfortable expressing themselves as if they are the other sex (or in whatever way they please for that matter).
“However, I cannot accept people’s unsubstantiated assertions that they are in fact the opposite sex to when they were born and deserve to be extended the same rights as if they were born as such.”
The recently unearthed blog post led to the Royal Academy removing her work from its shop, but in a statement released on Wednesday it admitted it “should have handled it better”.
The statement said: “There has been a great deal of debate around the RA’s recent communication about no longer stocking the work of Jess de Wahls in the Royal Academy shop. We have thought long and hard since then about this and the wider issues it raises.
“One thing is clear to us now – we should have handled this better. We have apologised to Jess de Wahls for the way we have treated her and do so again publicly now.
“We had no right to judge her views on our social media. This betrayed our most important core value – the protection of free speech.”
The RA previously posted a message on its Instagram stories announcing its action regarding the blog post, writing: “Thank you to all those for bringing an item in the RA shop by an artist expressing transphobic views to our attention.”
But it said there was “a failure of communications internally” surrounding the announcement on social media of removing De Wahls’s work, and it “will now reopen discussions with her regarding the restocking of her work”.
The RA added: “Plurality of voices, tolerance and free thinking are at the core of what we stand for and seek to protect…
“Freedom of expression can open up debate, create empathy or respect for difference, it can also at times cause hurt and outrage. This has confirmed to us our commitment to freedom of expression and to addressing complex issues through engagement and debate.”
The apology comes after De Wahls said earlier this week that she had noticed “a mob” being “mounted against” her on social media after the blog was widely shared.
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