Textile artist de Wahls, who is originally from Berlin, received a public and personal apology after her work was withdrawn from the art institution’s gift shop following accusations of transphobia, which she denied, due to comments she had made in a blog written in 2019.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about speaking with the Royal Academy’s secretary and chief executive, Axel Ruger: “I got an email the day before yesterday, asking if I would be available to speak to the chief of the Royal Academy in the morning and so of course, I agreed.
“And we spoke at great length and he apologised and yeah, it was a complete breakdown of communication within that institution and personally, I believe the apology to be sincere, and I accept.”
She said she was happy for her work to be put back into the gift shop, adding: “He said that it would be up to me, because he feels like they’ve wronged me so badly that he feels like he needs to ask for permission to put them back into the gift shop and I think it’s a good gesture.
“And I don’t want to go down the route that so many other you know, these woke warriors are doing, that the apology is not enough. I think it’s a big thing. I think it’s a big deal.”
On Wednesday the Royal Academy of Arts apologised, saying: “We should have handled this better.”
The academy said in a statement that its decision not to stock her embroidery, following complaints made on social media, had “betrayed our most important core value – the protection of free speech”.
The academy apology said there had been 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.”
De Wahls creates intricate embroideries and, according to her official website, “tackles subjects as wide ranging as feminism, misogyny & fetishism combined with creative textile recycling in her prolific output”.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden responded to the apology tweeting: “Welcome apology from the Royal Academy. Freedom of expression is central to great art and culture and should always be protected.”
The artist told Today she would not be pursuing any further action against the academy after telling the Radio 4 programme earlier in the week that she wanted an apology and may pursue legal action over the decision to remove her work.
Speaking on Thursday, when asked if it would be a “good thing for artists and for them if at some stage they do come out and talk about what the process was whereby they came to this”, she said it would be “interesting”.
But she added: “This is the thing I’ve been talking about all along, to me this is a clear sort of case of institutional capture, which we see across the board and lots of major, I mean, you can look at all the big institutions in Britain, we have the same problem.
“So this isn’t going to go away overnight and I understand that it’s a really precarious path to walk. So I think they obviously have to address that internally.”
De Wahls went on to say “because at the end of the day, if an art institution like that doesn’t stick to being the platform and not the judge, then art is dead.
“And then for the society, that just means really grim things. So they need to speak about it, but they need to sort it out for themselves I think”.