So, I’ve withdrawn my work from the Summer Exhibition. The letter below goes into the whys, but it can basically be summed up as ‘because transphobia’.
The only reason I was taking part in the first place was due to being offered two complimentary entry places by Yinka Shonibare, who is curating the festival. Despite my ambivalence at entering a competition with what is literally a royal institution, I was flattered at being remembered (from a group exhibition I’d been part of at Shonibare’s studio in 2018) and considered, and really did believe those who convinced me it would be a chance to be present for those who visited the exhibition and who may not see much of themselves represented there. One irony of this whole thing is that in his vision for this particular Summer Exhibition, Shonibare spoke of aiming to “build a more inclusive environment” in this show. It seems the RA isn’t quite ready for that yet.
Anyways, as part of my entry, I printed, mounted and framed the two images below. My intention now is to auction these off and share the majority of the money made between a trans-led organisation (considering Gendered Intelligence, but if anyone knows of any arts-specific organisations, please do let me know) and the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, who are currently raising money towards their feminist imam programme, and who are led by women, nonbinary and genderqueer people. I’d use a small part of what is raised (up to £100, depending on how much comes in) to go towards part of the costs of producing the pictures (about £200 in total).
I’ll possibly blog another time about the various issues with how exclusionary entry to competitions can be - even if you don’t pay an entry fee, being required to produce physical work has its own costs - and the compromise it feels needs to be made by folk from marginalised and minorities communities to take part in exhibitions run by historically, and contemporarily, oppressive and harmful institutions (case in point, the current Taylor Wessing exhibition).
I will say one thing about this decision that gave me momentary pause is the idea that I’m quite possibly burning certain bridges, and could now be seen as an ‘angry/difficult Black woman’. But then honestly, I wouldn’t want to work with places that would have that kind of problem or those kind of thoughts, so not really an issue. Fact of the matter is I am an angry Black woman about this and many things - it’s all part of my charm.
For now, though, I’m going to go be sad and tired of all this for a while, and then got on with better things.
Updating to add this, though if I’d been thinking more straight yesterday would have done it before I shared this post. This is a list of some trans/genderqueer artists and other creatives you can check out and support (these are their twitter handles).
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
My letter of withdrawal to the RA - it’s not as coherent as I’d have liked, but i’m just super tired right now!
To whom it may concern,
I recently found out about the incident between the RA and Jess De Wahls. From my understanding, the RA initially pulled the work of Jess de Wahls from their shop based on a 2019 blog she had written. In the blog she expressed views regarding trans people that I consider to be hate speech, and which the RA appeared to believe to be indefensible, thus leading to their choice to withdraw her work. They then, however, performed a 180, and declared this hate speech ‘freedom of expression’. This in itself was bad enough. However, in addition, the public way this was handled - rather than private communication with Jess de Wahls, at least initially - meant that she has now garnered even more support; the case has emboldened even more transphobes more generally to publicly declare their views in a bid to ‘not be silenced and censored’; and the RA has set a precedence of hate speech being considered ‘freedom of expression’ in their reckoning.
I cannot with any good conscience allow my work to potentially be shown at an institution who have declared such views and therefore wish to withdraw both of my shortlisted entries from the Summer Exhibition.
I am deeply sad, frustrated and angry to feel compelled to do this. As a Black muslim woman, I was excited to see Yinka Shonibare’s vision for greater inclusion with this year’s Summer Exhibition. It is ironic and greatly disappointing, then, that exclusion of a marginalised group is the reason for me to have to withdraw.
I would suggest the RA consider opening a dialogue with trans artists on how they can better support and promote them, and show solidarity in real and tangible ways. As a cis woman, that is not a matter for me to input on. More generally, I hope that the RA can eventually move to an actually more inclusive way of working - by expressing support for those who oppress others and deny their right to exist, the RA is in fact supporting the exclusion they claim to want to change.
Finally, I would be grateful if this letter could be passed to whoever made the decision to apologise to Jess de Wahls and reinstate her work being sold - I don’t require any communication from them, but do want them to be aware of some of the impact of their choices in this matter.