Royal Academy apologises for removing artist's work after 'judging her views on social media'

The charity removed work by Jess de Wahls following comments she made about sex and gender in a blog in 2019; she denies holding transphobic views.

The Royal Academy (Photograph: Pietro Recchia/Sopa Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)
The Royal Academy (Photograph: Pietro Recchia/Sopa Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The Royal Academy of Arts has apologised to an artist for removing her work from its shop after concluding it “had no right to judge her views” on the charity’s social media channels. 

The charity removed from sale work by Jess de Wahls after she was accused of transphobia on social media following comments she made about sex and gender in a blog in 2019.

But the artist claimed that she only found out the following day that her work would no longer be stocked after friends sent her screenshots posted on the charity’s Instagram stories, which announced the decision, and only received a call from the charity after that.

De Wahls has denied holding transphobic views and previously stated she could sue the charity if she was not given an apology.

In a statement today, the charity said it had “thought long and hard” about its decision to remove the artist's work and would reconsider. 

“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,” said the charity.

“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.”

The charity said that incidents like this one can raise fundamental issues, and a plurality of voices, tolerance and free thinking are at the core of what it stands for.

It said: “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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