The Royal Academy of Arts has today apologised to artist Jess De Wahls and said it will reopen discussions with her about restocking her artwork in their shop.
The RA which has received huge press and social media criticism for its decision to ban De Wahls’ textile creations from its gift shop said “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 arts institution said there had been a failure of communication by the RA in the artist first hearing about the ban from social media.
The Times journalist Janice Turner said “Let this be a lesson to any company or public body which thinks it can summarily cancel women via social media for feminist views”. Feminist writer Julie Bindel said she was “delighted” the Royal Academy had “finally done the right thing, but let’s not forget the terrible, distressing effect this has on those forced to endure this bullying and humiliation”. Writer Andrew Doyle said “Kudos to the Royal Academy for apologising and acknowledging the importance of free speech”.
Full statement from the Royal Academy on artist Jess De Wahls
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.
There was also a failure of communications internally which resulted in Jess de Wahls first hearing via social media that we would no longer stock her product in the RA shop. We will now reopen discussions with her regarding the restocking of her work.
Plurality of voices, tolerance and free thinking are at the core of what we stand for and seek to protect. These events raise some fundamental issues. 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.
We will continue to reflect on this and to look at our internal processes to ensure we learn from it. We want to make sure we navigate this better in future.