‘One thing is clear to us now, we should have handled this better’—Royal Academy apologises to artist Jess de Wahls over transphobia row

The London museum says that pulling her work from their shop because of her views "betrayed our most important core value—the protection of free speech"

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Artist Jess de Wahls told BBC Radio 4 that she was considering taking legal action against the Royal Academy of Arts Photo: TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images

Artist Jess de Wahls told BBC Radio 4 that she was considering taking legal action against the Royal Academy of Arts Photo: TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images

The Royal Academy of Arts in London (RA) has apologised to the artist Jess de Wahls for removing her works from its gift shop after she was accused of expressing transphobic views in a 2019 blog. “One thing is clear to us now—we should have handled this better,” says a statement released by the RA this morning.

Last week the RA issued an Instagram story statement saying that it had received complaints for selling works “by an artist expressing transphobic views” [the statement does not name De Wahls]. De Wahls said that her work was pulled from the gift shop after a “concerted effort” from online activists over her alleged transphobia.

Following a media furore, the RA says: “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.” De Wahls had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing but has re-tweeted the RA statement; earlier this week, she told BBC Radio 4 that she was considering taking legal action against the institution.

“We have apologised to Jess de Wahls for the way we have treated her and do so again publicly now," says the Royal Academy of Arts © David Owens

The RA statement adds: “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.”

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